Every once in a while, a show comes along that I feel grateful to have met. This, my friends, is one of those times.
I had very little idea of what to expect, going into this show, and I’m glad for it. Because, Show then had free rein to tell its story without having to work through any preconceptions on my part, and what a unique, affecting, beautiful story this turned out to be.
If you trust me enough; if your taste in dramas is anything like mine; if you haven’t seen this one; even if you don’t usually like dramas with a fantasy element – do make time for it. It is that special. <3
The Light In Your Eyes OST – 눈이 부시게 , The Sense Waltz, 마음 깊은 곳에
MY FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THIS SHOW
Even though I went into this show with very little knowledge of what I was getting into, and therefore without much idea of what it was about, I found that I liked this one right away.
Right at episode 1, Show felt solid and relatable to me, even with its fantasy element. The people in this world felt real, and their struggles, recognizable and relatable. Hye Ja’s (Han Ji Min) life isn’t whitewashed to be cute for television.
[MINOR SPOILERS] Hye Ja’s mom’s (Lee Jung Eun) salon is falling apart, even as Mom is working hard to support the family, and Dad (Ahn Nae Sang) doesn’t look like he makes much, driving his taxi. And yet, they do whatever they can to support Hye Ja’s dream of becoming a news anchor. That is so earthy and sweet. Hye Ja taking on voice work for porn movies is such a huge wake-up call. It gives her the pleasure of being able to give money to her parents, but it devastates her on the inside. How poignant, and also, how true to life. [END SPOILERS]
At first, I kind of wished there wasn’t a fantasy element in this show, because I felt like Show didn’t actually need it in order to feel meaty and interesting. But, Show’s fantasy element turns out to be its strength, which I can now say with 20/20 hindsight.
In the meantime, during my watch, I never could tell what was going to happen next, which I considered a very good thing.
My advice? Just put your trust in Show and let it take you where it wants to; it’ll be worth the journey, I firmly believe.
STUFF I LIKED
It’s actually pretty hard to talk about Show’s narrative in specifics, because Something happens in Show’s late stretch that makes it hard to talk about Show in almost any capacity without being spoilery.
So let me just say, very vaguely, that Show is really well-written, with a lot of thought, care, and heart poured into every character, plot point and narrative quirk. I very much appreciate writer-nim for this, and PD-nim, for bringing everything to life in such an earthy yet dreamy manner. Also, kudos to our cast, who all did an amazing job of their roles. Here, I’m just going to give some of our major characters the quick spotlight.
Han Ji Min as young Hye Ja
After Han Ji Min’s very winning turn in Familiar Wife, I was excited to see her cast in this, and I’m happy to say, Han Ji Min did not disappoint.
Han Ji Min plays young Hye Ja with a vibrancy and vulnerability that I found perfect for her character, even though young Hye Ja is a good 12 years younger than Han Ji Min’s real age. Kudos to Han Ji Min for delivering Hye Ja with so much heart and raw honesty.
Right away in episode 1, I found myself liking Hye Ja a lot.
There is so much raw honesty in Hye Ja coming to terms with her fears and inadequacy around becoming a news anchor, with said inadequacy pointedly highlighted by Joon Ha (Nam Joo Hyuk), and it’s so great that she articulates it all, to Joon Ha, even though she barely knows him. Because he’s the one who made her face her truth, she spills it without embellishment, when she sees him at the demonstration, and I couldn’t help but admire her for that. She’s willing to be honest, and be uncomfortable while being honest, because she sincerely values honesty and will put herself out there to hold herself to that value, even if she embarrasses herself in the process. She endeared herself to me so much, in this moment.
I love too, that Hye Ja is such a generous person. Even though she’s just met Joon Ha, when she realizes that he has much regret in his life, she offers to fix it for him with her magic watch, even though she’s banned herself from using it because of the post-timeslip consequences. Sure, she’s tipsy when she offers this to him, but she’s sincere in that moment, and I was struck by how giving Hye Ja is, as a person.
Kim Hye Ja as older Hye Ja
Kim Hye Ja is effortlessly natural as Hye Ja, regardless of the narrative context. From Hye Ja’s moments of bright verve, to the times of cautious hope, to her moments of sadness and despair, Kim Hye Ja delivers in a consummate manner that just makes me believe that she really is the character.
Here are just a handful of highlights featuring older Hye Ja, which I particularly enjoyed.
E3. It was a relief to see Hye Ja come out of her self-imposed prison, and also, eventually give up on running away, but it was a whole different kind of heart-wrenching to watch her try so hard to be strong and cheerful for her parents’ sake, while her parents try to be strong and stable for her sake.
Hye Ja’s overly bright smiles hide the silent tears that match the ones burgeoning in her parents’ eyes. The sight of Mom having to take a break to cry while dyeing Hye Ja’s silver strands dark, is just so heartbreaking. And Dad always looks like he’s 2 seconds away from losing control over the tears in his eyes. The scene of him taking Hye Ja to get reading glasses is quietly heartbreaking too. But the most poignant thing of all, is that Hye Ja tells Dad that because she gained something precious from it, it’s all worth it. Augh. Hye Ja’s willing to have paid this price, because she managed to save Dad. My heart.
E4. The situation with Hye Ja and Dad and the lunchbox is nicely teased out. At first, it looks like Dad’s being ungrateful by not eating the lunches that Hye Ja packs, but when Hye Ja really sees how hard Dad has to work, that he misses his lunch, and even gets insulted by other people, that changes everything.
I love how Hye Ja rushes in to stand up for Dad, even though she has to pretend to be his mom. In turn, Dad makes an effort to eat the anchovies which he hates, to make Hye Ja happy. It sounds like such a small thing, but it’s a thing that’s significant to the both of them, and this whole lunchbox incident seems to be just the thing to draw them closer together.
E6. It is sweet to see Hye Ja connecting with the prickly aloof Lady Chanel and them becoming friends, and it’s really nice to see that Hye Ja’s friendship is the thing to melt Lady Chanel’s cold facade. Aw.
E9. Hye Ja fiercely fighting on Joon Ha’s behalf, even though she’s a powerless granny that no one will listen to, is just moving to behold. She fights for him because he has no one else, not because she has the power to affect the investigation. She’s moved by her loyalty to him, and that’s so touching. This brought home to me again, just how pure-hearted Hye Ja is, and what a blessing she is to the people around her.
Nam Joo Hyuk as Joon Ha
I’ve enjoyed Nam Joo Hyuk before (most recently in Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo), and I must say, dude seems to be upping his acting game; this is literally the best I’ve seen of Nam Joo Hyuk, ever. Which is a very good thing indeed.
For a start, I love the studied, thoughtful air that he gives Joon Ha. There’s something very reflective and philosophical about him, which Nam Joo Hyuk brings out, from the twitch of his gaze to the gentle nuances of his body language. I found Joon Ha very appealing in his quiet thoughtfulness.
On top of that, I must say that Nam Joo Hyuk does an impressive job of the more difficult scenes; a better job than I originally thought him capable of. Serious kudos, I say.
Here are just two examples of scenes where I came away impressed by Nam Joo Hyuk’s delivery.
E2. The scene where Joon Ha hurts himself in order to get his dad away from his grandma (Kim Seung Chul and Kim Young Ok) is really quite dark. The look in his eyes is really a little on the unhinged side of things, like he’s on the verge of losing his mind, a little bit. Such a huge change from the thoughtful, stable Joon Ha that we met in episode 1.
E9. Nam Joon Hyuk does really well this episode. In the wake of Lady Chanel’s death, with Joon Ha then being accused of murder, Joon Ha’s shock, eventually giving way to grief, and then despair, is so well fleshed out. I don’t know what or where he’s pulling it out from, but this is the best I’ve seen from Nam Joon Hyuk, period.
Sohn Ho Jun as Yeong Soo
Yeong Soo is Hye Ja’s annoying Oppa with a heart, and Sohn Ho Jun does a great job of making Yeong Soo impossibly idiotic, but also, impossible to hate.
I mean, Oppa gets more annoying with each episode, which is amazing to me, because with each new milestone, I didn’t think that there’d be more ways that he could be annoying. But, Yeong Soo is the harmless kind of annoying, so I learned to just marvel at his ridiculous antics and laugh along.
Additionally, the thing that makes Yeong Soo impossible to hate, is that underneath his absurdly annoying ways, he really does care about the people around him.
[SPOILER ALERT] In episode 3, when Hye Ja’s parents are struggling to adjust to her new, older appearance, there’s something assuring about the way Yeong Soo falls right back into treating Hye Ja the exact same way he’s always treated her, even if that means ordering her around and bullying her. It means that he does see her as exactly the same, and there’s just something very assuring about that. [END SPOILER]
The three gal pals
I loved Hye Ja’s friendship with Hyun Joo and Sang Eun (Kim Ga Eun and Song Sang Eun), in every time and form that we see it.
There’s something really sweet about the fact that the three of them are completely different in personality and temperament from one another, and yet, are the tightest of besties.
In episode 3, when Hye Ja tells Hyun Joo and Sang Eun about her fantastical transformation, it’s so lovely that they believe her and accept her, the minute she tells them her tall tale. Even though their deeply ingrained manners prevent them from treating her casually so easily, I love that they continue to hang out with her, and are there for her, pretty much the same as before.
I also appreciate the arc in episode 8, where Show explores the challenges of an older Hye Ja having two much younger besties. I found the treatment of this arc organic and believable.
It’s so poignant and true to life, that Hye Ja would want to continue being friends with Hyun Joo and Sang Eun, but find it hard to keep up in her older body. Or that Hye Ja would find it more comfortable being around other people who would be able to empathize with her struggles, only to have Hyun Joo and Sang Eun feel strange and left out of her life. I like how Show resolves it, with Hyun Joo and Sang Eun firmly pooh-poohing Hye Ja’s question of whether they wanted to continue being friends with her, and even making the effort to get involved in the Hyo Ja Exhibition Hall activities, so that Hye Ja’s social worlds would intersect. How sweet. <3
THEMES / IDEAS
This show feels really rich in terms of themes and ideas, more so than the average drama, I think. Each episode really did have quite the thought-provoking effect on me, with Show’s themes and ideas sometimes leaping off my screen to confront me.
Here are some of the themes and ideas that resonated with me the most.
1. The idea of being noticed – even if it’s via harsh criticism – in order to feel alive. Poor Sang Eun, who felt so invisible, as she strived to sing better at the agency, where nobody paid her any attention whatsoever, who then cried tears of relief, at receiving the harsh criticism from netizens.
2. The idea of everything in life having a price, and then the idea that that price isn’t one that you’d be able to bear. Hye Ja thought she’d saved Dad, but in saving his life, she’d taken away his leg. And in the aftermath, there were so many ripple effects, like the impact his poorer health had on his mood, his ability to work, and on his marriage as well.
3. The idea of regrets. If you had the ability to turn back time and do things over, would you, and what would you do over? And what would be the price you’d be willing to pay, to do it over?
4. The idea of learning to live with the consequences of your actions, even if your actions have left your life in shambles.
5. The idea that you can’t fight fate and win. Hye Ja fought so hard to prevent Dad’s death, but is paying such a heavy price for it personally. On top of that, her family pays a heavy price that they don’t even realize.
6. The idea of friendship, and how that doesn’t have to be boxed in by social boundaries.
7. The idea of how society views the elderly. Hye Ja’s confrontation with the snide young man at the plastic surgery clinic showcases society’s expectations of the elderly, where they’re supposed to just be silent and invisible, and not have the audacity to want to look nice, or talk back when they’re disparaged.
8. The idea of treasuring oneself, even if no one else does. That’s the powerful message Hye Ja gives Joon Ha, even as he collapses in despair, and that’s the message that Lady Chanel should have received, for it might have saved her life.
THOUGHTS ON THE EPISODE 10 REVEAL [MAJOR SPOILER]
What a rollercoaster of an episode, with a fun and funny old people adventure where the oldies not in danger band together to save the oldies who are in danger, and also, Joon Ha, who’s been kidnapped, and there’s Yeong Soo trapping himself in the car trunk and inadvertently getting sent to Africa, only to have all of that come to a screeching head and spin on itself, to reveal the biggest twist of all: this is all in Hye Ja’s mind as she struggles with Alzheimer’s. Woah.
It’s no wonder the entire show has felt strange and sometimes fantastical, even with its fantasy premise. Some portions feel surreal, as if we’re watching some kind of dreamscape, and now, we know that it has been a dreamscape of sorts.
Everything suddenly looks different now. Mom and Dad are actually Hye Ja’s son and daughter-in-law, and Yeong Soo is actually her grandson. And they’ve all been humoring her and working to care for her, while she’s likely babbled fantastical based on her fragments of memories.
This whole story is Hye Ja’s now handicapped brain trying to make sense of the various memory fragments that she still has. How heartrending.
Also, everything comes into focus in a whole new way, with this reveal. Prior to this reveal, everything had felt surreal, kind of like a camera trying to come into focus, but not quite getting there. With this reveal, it feels like that camera has finally come into focus, and we see everything – literally everything – in a whole new light. Nicely done, Show. Really nicely done. *slow applause*
QUICK THOUGHTS ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
Augh. What a painful yet beautiful episode.
That shot of Hye Ja lying motionless in her hospital bed, then panning to show us young and vibrant Hye Ja, out with her friends, happily anticipating her first date with Joon Ha, is just gloriously bittersweet. It’s sad that Hye Ja is confined to a hospital bed with no cure for her condition, but it’s so poignant to see that her mind is in that space where she was young and hopeful and so full of life. It’s almost like she’s in an alternate reality, in her mind, which is exactly how we’ve experienced the first 10 episodes of this show.
I found it poignant yet comforting to watch the scenes detailing Hye Ja’s younger days with her friends, and her deep love for yet deep frustration with Joon Ha. It’s such a contrast to her present reality of being weak and old, with her slipping in and out of lucidity. But at the same time, it’s somehow comforting to me, that in her mind, and in her youth, Hye Ja is truly alive.
What a tilt on our perception, as we see the various characters populating Hye Ja’s Alzheimer’s-affected fantasy world, now showing up similar-but-different in the real world. The other visitors to the exhibition hall are fellow patients at the hospital, and the shady folks running the hall are staff at the hospital. It really shows us how Hye Ja’s worlds crisscross.
I’m so touched by Hye Ja’s moment with her daughter-in-law. So much gratitude and penitence and empathy, at the same time. I’m so moved by Hye Ja’s apology, and her earnest request that her daughter-in-law free herself from her burdens and finally live for herself.
It occurs to me that Hye Ja is still deeply in love with Joon Ha, decades after they first married, and decades after his death. Even in her final days, as she struggles with Alzheimer’s, he’s clearly the love of her life. Gulp. That’s just so beautiful.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
I was a touch reluctant to go into this finale, partly because I didn’t want to say goodbye to this show, and partly because I kind of knew that this final episode would tug at my heartstrings, and hard. I’m grateful that Show serves up a generous amount of sweetness to temper the sadness.
It was heartbreaking to see Hye Ja’s condition worsening over the course of the episode, because I knew in my gut that the inevitable would come.
In the meantime, though, I was moved to tears when Dae Sang realizes that Mom had been sweeping the path near his home of snow all these years, because she was afraid he would slip and fall. This is the moment that he finally understands that behind all her tough words, she had always loved and cared for him. When Dae Sang says to Hye Ja, who doesn’t remember him, that her son wouldn’t know, Hye Ja smiles and says simply that as long as he didn’t fall, that was enough. Oof. What quiet, unwavering love. When Dae Sang weeps, my heart wept with him. What a momentous lifting of a burden that he’s carried on his heart, all these years, to finally understand his mother’s heart.
I loved, too, the quiet determination of Dae Sang’s wife, to continue to care for her mother-in-law, even though her mother-in-law doesn’t remember her anymore. Her acts of love spoke so loudly, of how grateful she is to Hye Ja, for her care and support over the years.
The flashbacks to Hye Ja’s youth, where we see her rejoicing in her marriage to Joon Ha, and embracing the changes and challenges of parenthood, were so precious.
At the same time, it was heartbreaking to see this bliss being shattered when Joon Ha is detained and eventually dies while in detention. How awful. And then to see little Dae Sang then get in an accident that resulted in him losing his leg, even more tragic. Through it all, we see Hye Ja grit her teeth, blink back the tears in her eyes, and just bear down to keep on keeping on.
While it’s completely heartbreaking to see Hye Ja’s bubble of familial happiness burst into thin air, it’s equally moving to see how she draws on those memories to keep her going. Joon Ha may not have been with Hye Ja for much of her life, but he never left her heart in the decades that followed his death.
Finally, when Hye Ja reaches the end of her life, no longer tormented by the desire to get back Joon Ha’s lost watch, but her eyes fixed only on the love of her life, my heart couldn’t help but surge with emotion. It feels like a moment she’s waited for all her life; to be reunited with the one that she loves; the one that she wishes to spend eternity with. And it feels like Joon Ha’s been waiting for her all this time too, quietly patient until the day that Hye Ja’s done with the requirements of her earthly journey, so that she’d be free to join him for a shared heavenly one.
Beyond this lovely, bittersweet reunion, Show also leaves me with lingering thoughts, of how Hye Ja was dealt a hard lot in life, but managed to make the most of her happy memories, to live a life that she ultimately finds worthwhile and fulfilling. Thank you, Show, for reminding us that we can find beauty and meaning, even amid the sorrow; that we can all live our best lives, no matter who we are or what we face. A lesson worth learning indeed. <3
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Poignant, beautiful and pure.
FINAL GRADE: A