Have you ever been hearts-in-eyes infatuated with someone – charmed by their good looks, sweet words, and thoughtful chivalry – only to be later disappointed by their glaring flaws, on deeper acquaintance? Whether it was with a real-life crush or with a celebrity Oppa, I feel like many of us would likely have felt this way at some point in our lives.
That feeling, my friends, is how I felt, watching this drama. For Show’s first half, I was very much smitten, and gobbled up episodes back-to-back, pacing myself only because I sincerely dreaded running out of new episodes. The bum thing was, Show became a lot less cracky for a good chunk of its second half. On the upside, Show comes back with a reasonably solid finale, so it wasn’t all downhill.
STUFF WHEN SHOW WAS CRACKY-GOOD
Show isn’t perfect by any means, and I could point out more than a few plot weaknesses even in this cracky first half – but I won’t, because when Show was cracky, it was delicious and wonderful to slurp up, and that’s a rare and precious thing that I choose not to argue with.
When I think about it, there were basically two key things that made Show as cracky for me as it was, in its first half.
1. The execution and handling
At its best, Show kinda reminds me of Money Flower, like it’s Money Flower’s slightly rougher cousin, in possession of a similar spirit, but without Money Flower’s finesse. Which is a big compliment in my books, because I loved Money Flower.
Here’s a quickish breakdown of the facets of the overall execution that appealed to me.
I really liked Show’s theatrical flair, which I found engaging, even though the theatrical vibe was stronger than in Money Flower. It made everything in this drama world feel heightened and just a little bit thrilling, which I liked.
Show is relatively fast-paced, and serves up more action than I’d first anticipated. [SPOILER] For example, in episode 1, within minutes Hae Ra (Lee Min Jung) is on the run from the police, and then later in the same hour, she’s going up against money lenders who’ve sold her father’s shoe shop. I just didn’t have time to feel bored. [END SPOILER]
The music in this show is my absolute favorite thing, when it comes to the various things in Show’s execution that come together to create its flavor and character.
It feels like the music PD took the essences of the music in Money Flower and Secret Love Affair, mashed it together, and applied it with a skillful but slightly heavy hand. The music is a little in-yo-face with the sound levels, but it’s very effectively applied, and it swirls into a scene and teases it to a fever-pitch crescendo, as the scene itself builds. It’s well done. It’s not very subtle at all, especially when we’re talking about the rock-edged sort of song that plays at the end of the episode (anthem below in the MV section). It takes a little bit of adjustment, but the music fits well with this show’s theatrical bent, and I found the music growing on me very well indeed.
The building of intrigue
In another facet which gives me lashings of Money Flower, Show builds intrigue through its web of characters working to manipulate one another. I felt like I was watching various puppet-masters trying to control others and work things to their advantage, but their strings crisscrossed and tangled all the more, with each successive tug on the puppet strings.
[SPOILER] Tae Oh (Lee Ki Woo) is working to get to Soo Hyun (So Yi Hyun) through Hae Ra; Hae Ra is working In Joon’s (Joo Sang Wook) emotions even as she works to not be used; Soo Hyun can’t control In Joon’s heart, so she moves the circumstances through other hands; it’s all quite compelling. [END SPOILER]
The little details
Sometimes, Show would surprise me by being rather subtle, delivering its intended message via little details rather than big gestures. I liked that a lot.
[SPOILER] In episode 5-6, we see Hae Ra sitting at the bus-stop; a bus stops, but we soon see that she didn’t board it. At first, I think that maybe it just wasn’t her bus. But then, it’s only later, after In Joon drives right past her after receiving a call from his uncle, that her eyes flicker, just a touch. It’s then that I know that she was waiting for him; expecting him to come to her, out of concern. Nicely done.
I also like the affection growing in In Joon’s eyes, each time he regards Hae Ra. It’s not bash-you-in-the-head obvious moony eyes, but it’s a subtle softening of his gaze, like he sees her as a comrade, someone that he can count on. I liked that a lot. [END SPOILER]
In Joon and Hae Ra together
Joo Sang Wook and Lee Min Jung share very good chemistry, and I very much enjoyed watching them spark off each other. For more Joo Sang Wook-Lee Min Jung sparky, I recommend Cunning Single Lady, where I also enjoyed them both very well, maybe even more than I did here.
The big draw in this OTP connection, for me, is threefold.
First of all, I loved watching In Joon letting Hae Ra get to him, in spite of himself. That process of him falling for her is wonderful to observe, and Show lets us in on the state of his heart, in the little details.
[SPOILER] For example, in episodes 7-8, In Joon can’t stand to let Hae Ra be by herself on the rooftop at lunchtime, and brings her coffee to cheer her up, even though he actually has an important business appointment. He keeps the business appointment waiting – grumpily, I might add – to do what he can for Hae Ra. It’s thoughtful and even kind of gallant, and I couldn’t help but grow a soft spot for him. [END SPOILER]
Second of all, I don’t always know whether In Joon’s run-ins with Hae Ra are planned or not, but what I do know is that these two grow closer because when they do meet, they talk.
[SPOILER] In episodes 7-8, instead of asking In Joon for something else, Hae Ra asks for a welcome party, and they talk while they drink. When they run into each other at the factory, they sit and talk, about shoes, and their parents. It sounds so simple, but this is the thing that is drawing them closer together. I feel like the more In Joon knows about Hae Ra, the more intrigued he is, and the more he wants to know, and the more he wants to be close to her. I love how that growing connection feels organic and natural; a product of time spent in meaningful conversation. [END SPOILER]
Third of all, Show keeps us guessing for a nice long while, as to Hae Ra’s true feelings towards In Joon.
[SPOILER] Because Hae Ra’s been tasked to seduce In Joon, it’s hard to tell how much of what she says and does, is an act to steal In Joon from Soo Hyun, and how much of it is sincere. That definitely added to the cracky appeal of this OTP’s relationship development. [END SPOILER]
Here’s a collection of OTP highlights which I enjoyed. For the record, the crackiest OTP developments, for me, were until the episode 20 mark. This was the stretch where Hae Ra, who’s been paid to seduce In Joon, appears ambivalent, while he, on the other hand, grows more and more intrigued by her.
E15-16. Ah, what a way to bring the OTP together, with In Joon running out of a formal marriage meeting to save Hae Ra, who’s been chased down by thugs hired by his uncle (Jo Seung Yun). It’s a moment fraught with emotion; Hae Ra’s shaken and scared and teary-eyed, and In Joon’s just overcome with relief that she’s ok. You can see, though, that it totally pains him to see that she’s hurt and scared, and that he feels really sorry, because he has a gut feeling that Uncle was behind it. That tear that escapes his eye, just really got to me. I can feel that he sincerely is falling for her, and cares about her, and just might be crazy enough, to give it all up for her.
E17-18. I was wondering for a while whether Hae Ra sincerely liked In Joon, and I do think we have enough confirmation that she does. She smiles when she thinks of him this episode, to herself – not the victorious, I-got-you-now kind of smile one would expect of someone hired to snag someone, but a soft, tender, affectionate sort of smile that you don’t even realize you’re wearing, as you think of someone you’re fond of.
E17-18. In Joon sounds like he’s willing to give it up all to be with Hae Ra. That’s huge. But to Show’s credit, I do see why In Joon would feel so intrigued by her and so connected to her, and so protective of her too. It’s also huge, that he goes on to say that it’s ok even if her feelings for him aren’t sincere. He’s willing to love her, even if she doesn’t truly love him back? Woah.
E19-20. I’m surprised by how quickly In Joon has decided to give it all up, when he isn’t even sure how Hae Ra feels, or if it would matter to her that he doesn’t have money. I feel like this is the price that he’s willing to pay, to not be trapped in a marriage with Soo Hyun, so that he can be free to love Hae Ra – even if Hae Ra doesn’t love him back. I rationalize that this is the price he’s willing to pay for his liberty, and until Hae Ra came along, his liberty didn’t seem very valuable or useful to him. Now that his heart has started beating for Hae Ra, his liberty suddenly seems paramount, because without it, he can’t even begin to think about loving her.
E19-20. Hae Ra turning around to tell In Joon that she’s sincere, and then kissing him, is pretty amazing, for a kdrama female lead. She says it quietly, kisses him, and then walks away in a dignified manner. I’m surprised he didn’t run after her to hold her and kiss her back.
E19-20. I’m surprised that Hae Ra even attempted to throw away the information that Chang Soo (Heo Joon Suk) gave her. I suppose that’s how much she’s come to care for In Joon. The thought that this knowledge would change everything, was enough to make her pause, even for a bit.
E21-22. In Joon’s so eager to be free to love Hae Ra that the moment he gets her answer, that she only wants him and doesn’t care about the money, he heads straight to his father (Go In Bum), to set it in motion. I have to admire him for that courage.
STUFF THAT ADDED UP TO NEUTRAL
Joo Sang Wook and Lee Min Jung as In Joon and Hae Ra
You might be surprised to see this section in the Neutral section, since I just talked about how this OTP was a plus for me, but hear me out. The thing is, as much as I enjoyed the chemistry between Joo Sang Wook and Lee Min Jung, I also felt like acting-wise, their deliveries fell on the less nuanced side of things. At the same time, I felt like the writing around both their characters didn’t help matters.
While this statement about the less-than-nuanced acting applies to both actors, I feel like because the burden lay greater on Hae Ra’s character due to her more complicated emotional journey, Lee Min Jung comes out looking like the one with the flatter delivery.
This is unfortunate, because I have to confess that I found Hae Ra nicely mysterious and charming in Show’s first half. In fact, I felt like I’d never seen Lee Min Jung more beautiful than in this show. The thing is, as I got deeper into Show’s episodes, I realized that the expressions that Hae Ra wears are all within the same small range. Off the top of my head, everything is a small variation of the Meaningful Look, the Blank Look, or the Sad Look. This definitely didn’t help matters, as Hae Ra’s emotional landscape is supposed to get more complex in the later stretch of the show. The greater demands, and the unchanging range of expressions, just added up to make Lee Min Jung’s delivery come across as very flat, sadly.
The writing of the characters
To put it bluntly, there were times when I felt like both In Joon and Hae Ra weren’t very smart, and that was definitely a downer.
In Joon’s decision in episodes 19-20, to give all his shares to Jung Ho (Kong Jung Hwan) in exchange for Jung Ho’s promise to protect Soo Hyun’s family in the fallout from his breaking off the engagement, is honestly quite foolhardy. Given Jung Ho’s terrible track record, what makes In Joon think that he can trust him? Also, doesn’t he know his father? If Chairman Tae wants to destroy someone, the likes of Jung Ho, whom he seems to despise, isn’t going to be able to stop him.
I tried to rationalize that perhaps In Joon’s giving up all his shares so that he can extricate himself from this power game. Like, as long as he’s in the game, he’s subject to pressure from his father. But.. by giving up all his money, isn’t he also giving up all his power? If he’s powerless, wouldn’t he be in a more vulnerable position than ever?
This just didn’t make sense to me, and it just felt like In Joon was not being very wise at all.
Up till episodes 19-20, Hae Ra’s articulated that they don’t know for sure that In Joon is the one that Hyun Joo (Cha Soo Yeon) was involved with, and that she wants to find out the truth. This new information, that the doctor suspects foul play, tells her nothing more about whether In Joon is the man Hyun Joo was involved with. Yet, Hae Ra becomes all scheming and revenge-minded towards In Joon from episode 21 onwards. I thought this was too big of a leap in logic on Hae Ra’s part, and I was disappointed that she didn’t realize that.
In episode 25-26, Hae Ra learns that Hyun Joo had gone to the Tae household, saying that she was pregnant. I would think that one of the important questions to ask, when you hear that someone had barged into the house saying that she was pregnant, would be, “Who did she say the father was?” But.. Hae Ra never asks that question, which I thought was quite dumb, to be honest.
Our second leads
In a drama world where revenge is the mission of the day, it’s par for the course, that our second leads are both designed to inspire dislike and bemusement for much of Show’s run. At the same time, given that Show comes out of Korea where most villains tend to get some of kind redemption by story’s end, it’s also no surprise that both our second leads have a redemption arc by the time we reach the finale.
Here’s a quick spotlight on each of our second leads and the kinds of dysfunction they brought to this table.
So Yi Hyun as Soo Hyun
So Yi Hyun excels in this kind of angry, spurned second female lead kind of role, and I have to admit, I found her interesting and even rather arresting to watch, even when her character’s actions didn’t make much sense at all.
When it’s about In Joon
E17-18. Soo Hyun’s willing to marry a shell of a man and then punish him their whole lives, by taking everything, and having him long for the woman he loves, forever? Wow, really? That sounds twisted.
E19-20. Soo Hyun handing out wedding invitations when In Joon has just told her that he’s having doubts about their marriage? That’s ballsy, and also, a little bit crazy.
When it’s about her daughter
E3-4. Soo Hyun is dead cold, wow. I mean, she hears that her daughter is going to die, and she states, “Then let her”? Yikes. What kind of woman is she?
E13-14. I’m confused as to why Soo Hyun suddenly seems to care about her daughter. She had been cold and ruthless the last time, when Tae Oh told her Jennie was dying. Looks like she didn’t really mean it when she spat out that Tae Oh should just let Jennie die.
E19-20. Soo Hyun seems genuinely torn when it comes to Jennie. She protects her, scolds her for going off with a stranger, drives her home, and even seems to sometimes have tears sheening in her eyes. It’s starting to become clear, that this is what she’s like when her heart is involved. With In Joon and Hae Ra, it’s becoming clear that it’s more of a pride thing. She’s definitely becoming a little more understandable, to my eyes.
Lee Ki Woo as Tae Oh
I get that Tae Oh behaves in dubious ways because he would do anything to save his daughter, but I gotta say, there were times when I found him distinctly hateful.
E7-8. I’m curious; does Tae Oh not understand how guys’ minds and hearts work? Does he think that Hae Ra would better openly flirting with In Joon? He’s so impatient, pressuring her for results, and says that she’s all talk no action. But hey, In Joon is thinking about her, and going out of his way for her, and opening up to her and telling her things that he doesn’t tell his fiance. What would he call that?
E7-8. That scene where Soo Hyun confronts Tae Oh and asks if he’s the one behind everything. The way he simply admits to it is almost comical. Like a tween brat out to prove a point, except he’s a grown man on a revenge mission.
E9-10. How could Tae Oh put Hae Ra’s sister’s life in actual danger, in order to threaten her and get her to promise to seduce In Joon, no matter what? What kind of human is he?! Despicable trash.
E27-28. What is Tae Oh talking about, that Jennie’s in even more danger because of Hae Ra? What was Hae Ra supposed to do, seduce In Joon and steal him from Soo Hyun, without Soo Hyun wanting or trying to fight back at her? That’s completely unfair. If not for him, Hae Ra would’ve never gotten so close to In Joon. I honestly struggle to understand this man.
STUFF WHEN SHOW GREW INCREASINGLY FRUSTRATING TO WATCH [SPOILERS]
Ok, so THE main thing that frustrated my watch of this show, is the writing around Hae Ra and her approach to her entire revenge mission. It’s just hard to suspend disbelief, really.
I mean.. Hae Ra leaping to the conclusion that In Joon is the reason her sister attempted suicide is disappointing, in that I had pegged her to have a better head on her shoulders. Of course it’s a possibility, but I’d have liked her to have stopped to consider other possibilities.
The thing is, Hae Ra has no evidence beyond circumstantial clues, that In Joon is the one responsible for Hyun Joo’s condition. There are opportunities for her to ask questions, but she doesn’t ask them. Instead, she cluelessly allows Jung Ho’s mother (Song Ok Sook) to manipulate her for her own gains, while doing terrible things to In Joon, the man whom she GROUNDLESSLY believes hurt her sister. This was so, SO frustrating to watch.
On a related tangent, I was so frustrated too, that loyal bestie Sun Young (Jung Soo Young) would find definitive evidence of In Joon’s innocence, and be on the phone with Hae Ra, trying to tell her what she’s found out, only to be run down and killed before she even finished getting the words out of her mouth. Arrghh.
And THEN, after Hae Ra realizes that In Joon is innocent after all, Chang Soo tells her the best thing to do is to become an evil woman? For In Joon to hate her, while she gets revenge?
This all didn’t make a lotta sense to me, and I was thisclose to calling it quits on this show. I hung in there only to see how the story ends, to be honest. Happily, Show managed a nice uptick in its last stretch, which I’ll talk about next.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Given how frustrated I’d felt with Show’s mid-to-late episodes, I must say that I felt a distinct sense of relief from about the episode 33 mark, once In Joon got out of prison. Mainly, it just felt like a relief to not have to grapple with the stupidity of Hae Ra ferociously barking up the wrong tree without any concrete evidence.
Finally, it started to feel like Show was getting its groove back, and I welcomed this with open arms. Did Show feel as solid and surefooted as it had first did? Well.. not exactly. But Show did get a solid amount of its mojo back, and even managed a very nice twist in its last legs. I count that a win.
This last hour, Jung Ho’s bad deeds catch up with him, and In Joon emerges triumphant, with freshly awakened Chairman Dad in tow. Jung Ho’s mom also gets arrested for her crimes. These are both things I’d expected, and I would’ve been disappointed if Show hadn’t delivered on them.
What I was surprised by, was the reconciliation between Soo Hyun and Jennie. It’s true that I found it convenient that Jennie just knew that Soo Hyun was her mother, but I really liked their farewell at the airport. Jennie asking permission to call her Mom, just once; the heartfelt tearful hug when Jennie tells Mom that she loves her; Soo Hyun telling Jennie that Mom loves her too; I found this all very lovely and sweet. I also really liked the promise that mother and daughter make, to call often, and to see each other again.
The quiet, warm look that Soo Hyun and Tae Ho exchange afterwards, is rich with bygones and mutual understanding, which I find very satisfying to witness as well.
Show’s biggest surprise is well handled, for the most part. The vague hints that Ah Jung (Shim Yi Young) might not be as innocent as she appears, and then the vague hints slowly becoming more solid, is nicely done. The dawning realization that Ah Jung is the real culprit behind Hyun Joo’s attempted murder, feels shocking and surreal. For me, it felt as if mental puzzle pieces were flying off the wall in my head in a dizzying flurry, all looking for their actual right positions. That was cool. I really liked that a lot, and felt like Show had saved a nice amount of oomph for its finale, with this twist.
On the downside, after dancing around the truth behind that fateful night for 20 hours of screen time, I was disappointed that even in the final reveal, Show is not explicit about how Ah Jung had managed to execute the actual crime. How had she knocked Hyun Joo out, before she put the coal briquette in the car? Also, is Hyun Joo’s testimony really enough to convict Ah Jung of the crime?
My other big question is: what about Ah Jung’s scheme to bring In Joon down by Hae Ra’s hand, by promising Tae Oh a kidney for Jennie? Are we just going to ignore that? Was that part of a bigger scheme to get rid of everyone so that her son Min Woo would be the sole heir to everything? Because if that’s true, then Ah Jung’s tearful confession that she had never planned to hurt Hyun Joo, and that the coal briquette had been for herself, rings hollow, no?
Personally, I would have preferred if Show had chosen to go dark with Ah Jung, and have her be the quiet, bullied mouse of a daughter-in-law who turns out to be the master schemer behind everyone’s misfortunes, not for revenge, because In Joon was never unkind to her. No, it’d be all for money and power. Revenge on her husband and mother-in-law was just a bonus. Ooh. That would’ve been way more interesting, dontcha think?
ANYWAY. One year time-skip later, we see In Joon unable to forget Hae Ra, and he seeks her out in Busan, where she’s gone back to live with her sister, and pursue her original passion of shoemaking. On the beach, he tells her all that’s left between them is forgiveness; that if he could go back in time, he would still offer his hand to her. Reaching out his hand to her, In Joon asks if she would do the same. Hae Ra admits she would, and tearfully takes his hand, in a move that echoes that fateful night long ago, when she’d first taken his hand. They embrace, and our final credits roll.
I’m satisfied with where we leave In Joon and Hae Ra. I’m willing to accept that they can’t forget each other, and that they’re willing to forgive, move on and start fresh. Do I wish that they’d walked a road less riddled with stupid misunderstandings? Yes, definitely. But it’s also true that they would’ve had to work through a whole lot of stuff to be together, regardless, so I’m content not to nitpick too much, and just be grateful that Show came back with at least a little bit of a bang, and went out with a decent amount of style.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
More mood than substance, especially in Show’s mid-to-late stretch. Overall, Show’s not too bad, if you don’t think too hard. Or even solidly enjoyable, if you don’t think at all.
FINAL GRADE: B-
This is Show’s main anthem, which I love. Enjoy.