You guys, this is possibly the one show that I ended up watching quite literally by accident.
See, even though quite a few of you had suggested this show to me, I’d put it vaguely on my list for “later,” and my track record shows that “later” often stretches into a black hole void of “maybe never,” mostly because there are just too many newer shows vying for my attention and I can’t keep up with it all.
The thing is, when I saw this available on Viu, I thought I’d click on episode 1, “just to see.” Well, whaddya know. I got sucked in within mere minutes.
This one struck me as immediately engaging the way a classic melo like Winter Sonata is immediately engaging, and by the 30-minute mark, I knew I’d be following this one through to the end. In a drama landscape where a good number of dramas take about 4 episodes to get going in earnest, that’s skillz.
The question is, did Show manage to keep it up all the way through to the end?
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.
PERSONAL CONTEXT, AND THE OVERALL TRAJECTORY OF MY WATCH [SOME VAGUE SPOILERS]
I haven’t watched the Japanese drama that inspired this remake, so for the most part, I can’t compare this to the source material. But, I do know that the original ends on a tragic note, and I also know some bare but key details around the tragedy of the ending.
I’ll talk more about that in the last section of this review, but suffice to say for now, that I think just knowing those basic things about the source material did color my ability to enjoy this show’s chosen ending, because I knew there was legitimately another choice that could have been made, narratively.
Overall, I’d say that I found this an enjoyable watch, despite sometimes not fully getting the logic that Show was serving up. At its best, I found Show atmospheric, absorbing and quite compelling. It’s unfortunate that the ending just didn’t work so well, for me.
SPRAWLING OPINIONS (BOTH PROS AND CONS)
Because Show often paints in shades of gray, and because sometimes some things are kind of uneven, and also because I sometimes found myself having mixed feelings about a plot point or character, I found it difficult to separate my observations into Like and Dislike sections.
Instead, let’s take a look at both the upsides and downsides of various facets of this show.
Show’s overall execution
The overall handling
Generally speaking, I liked how everything was thoughtfully and prettily filmed, and I really enjoyed the music that was selected to score this moodsy, atmospheric story world. I found the music lilting and immersive, and occasionally ethereal.
Altogether, this appealed to me a great deal, and added to my enjoyment of my watch in a significant way.
In episode 11, there’s a nice example of thoughtful directing which I really enjoyed.
In the beginning of the episode, as we hear Jin Gook tell Tak (Park Sung Woong and Jang Young Nam) about how little Jin Kang had finally warmed to him by holding his hand while she slept, the camera pans to Jin Kang’s hand in Moo Young’s (Jung So Min and Seo In Guk), as they snuggle postcoital.
It’s a great way to weave the dissonant pieces together, and in such an organic fashion too.
I couldn’t help but be impressed, even as I felt the discordant emotions surging against each other in my heart: the poignance at the contrast between little Jin Kang’s handhold and adult Jin Kang’s handhold.
The bittersweetness of Jin Gook’s memory; the wonder at how Jin Kang and Moo Young truly feel like two pieces of a puzzle finally reunited; the foreboding of what that might mean.
Really nicely done, I thought.
I found that the main thing I felt while watching this show, was a sense of morbid fascination. Right away, Show serves up several different compelling factors that I felt added interest to my watch.
First, Show gets us curious about Moo Young and whether he’s the murderer, or if he isn’t, then how he’s connected to the murderer, coz how many people could there be in one drama world, that has a photographic memory?
Also, there’s the question of who the murderer really is, and what the motive is. And there’s also the hint of a shared backstory by Jin Kang and Moo Young, who both have burn scars.
Plus, there’s also the thing about Jin Gook being unsettled by the sight of Moo Young, and the niggling feeling that he’s met Moo Young before.
All of these things piqued my interest, and made me want to watch more of this show.
I also rather enjoyed the kaleidoscopic effect of the writing. As I got deeper into Show’s episodes, bits and pieces of information feel like they’re shifting into place in a slow-motion kaleidoscopic sort of way.
But, while things might look different today based on today’s developments, it’s also quite likely that things would look different another day, in another episode. This kept things intriguing and interesting, for me.
Having said that, I did find the characterization of our key characters on the patchy side (I’ll talk more about that later), and the treatment of some secondary characters, on the caricaturey side.
For example, I found rich chaebol Jang Woo Sang (Do Sang Woo) quite the caricature, and did not find him much of a believable character.
While Show did keep me reasonably engaged through most of its run, I did find the pacing a little patchy.
Some narrative arcs are amped up to feel Quite Important, but end up being sort of pushed aside rather unceremoniously, in order to give screen time to the development of the OTP relationship.
For example, given that Seung Ah (Seo Eun Soo) is presented as a close friend of Jin Kang’s, I would have expected her sudden and tragic death to have lingered more with Jin Kang. I expected to see more of Jin Kang mourning her, and talking about her.
But instead, it feels like Seung Ah’s arc is quite hastily put to rest, in favor of exploring Jin Kang’s feelings towards Moo Young. This felt a little jerky, pacing-wise, and I thought Show could’ve done better on this.
Seo In Guk as Moo Young
Moo Young (Seo In Guk) possesses a distinct antihero sort of flavor, like he can’t be trusted, and Show does a good job of making him come across as repulsive and dangerous, yet extremely fascinating, at the same time.
Seo In Guk suits this role really well, I must say. I’ve always found his gaze a little off-kilter, and this character that he’s playing is so very much off-kilter that it’s perfect. Moo Young immediately comes across as sardonic, devil-may-care and a bit of a manipulative badass.
He’s just the type of bad boy that you’d want your kid sister to stay away from, but from whom you can’t stay away either. He does whatever he wants, on his terms, and he knows how to wow the ladies.
In episode 1, he put himself out there to break the vase, so that Seung Ah wouldn’t need to do the artist talk that they talked about, and then he saunters away with a sly glint in his eyes when security ushers him out.
Later, he’s all wrist-grabby and smoldering with Seung Ah in the dark, and then gifts her the bracelet off his own wrist, since it’s her birthday.
It’s this very brand of slightly wild intensity that makes Seung Ah fixate on him like a moth to a flame – and that makes me intrigued by Moo Young as well.
Seo In Guk looks particularly unnerving when he lets his eyes go dead. And he wears that look a lot as Moo Young. It’s the key thing that makes Moo Young so fascinating, I think, in the context of how he behaves and how he carries himself.
The words leave his lips in a flippant offhanded manner, and he’s honest in an almost unsettling way. He just says whatever he wants to say, and seems confident regardless of the setting or person. And then every once in a while, his eyes go dead, as if nothing is real and nothing matters.
It’s very intriguing.
Gotta give Seo In Guk credit; he really does give Moo Young a sociopathic quality. It’s in the unrepentant, almost provocative gaze that he tends to wear.
Plus, there’s the vibe that Show presents, that Moo Young really seems disconnected from his feelings, so much so that it often feels like he’s missing an emotion chip.
For example, in episode 2, we see that the thing about Hee Joon (Hong Bin) being a college student was a lie after all, and that’s a lie that Seung Ah had confronted him about, too.
He’s just so flippant about everything that he doesn’t even bat an eye when he’s caught in a lie, and even manages to turn it around so that Seung Ah’s all tearful and sorry to him about doubting his word. Woah.
And in episode 5, he seems so nonchalant about Yoo Ri trying to run Jin Kang over, and doesn’t seem at all ruffled when he finds out the truth, although Yoo Ri says that he’s angry.
And then, he seems genuinely curious and uncertain about whether he likes Jin Kang, even though Yoo Ri is positive that he likes Jin Kang. The straightforward, almost flippant way he asks Jin Kang to date him, so that he can figure out whether he likes her, is so odd and.. unfeeling.
So to me, at the center of Show’s mysterious vibe is Moo Young, who just seems so glib and daring and offhanded about it all. Who is he, and what’s his deal?
That was one of the Big Questions that kept me intrigued and interested to see more.
As our story progresses, we also see that the closer Moo Young’s bond with Jin Kang becomes, the softer and warmer he comes across.
To my eyes, this was done really quite well, in the sense that by the time we hit the later episodes, I actually found it a little jarring when Show gave us flashbacks of earlier episodes where Moo Young comes across as much more unhinged and dangerous.
For example, in episode 11, it’s only during Jin Gook’s confrontation with Moo Young outside the police station that I remembered all over again, how chilling Moo Young can be.
Up to this point, he’s been warm, fuzzy and cuddly with Jin Kang, so much so that I kind of forgot that he was anything different.
But the skeptical, flippant look in his eyes, as he listens to Jin Gook’s protests about him dating Jin Kang, and the way that he informs Jin Gook, without the bat of an eye, that he will continue to date Jin Kang, and Jin Gook can go ahead and do whatever he wants, is quite chilling to behold.
It also makes me wonder if it’s a good idea for anyone to date him at all.
The thing is, while I was quite happy to let Show evolve my impression of Moo Young to something a lot more sympathetic, on hindsight, I wonder whether this was too simplistic.
As in, is it really that simple, that because Moo Young meets Jin Kang, she unlocks his inner warmth, and he leaves so much of his colder characteristics behind, that we as an audience can actually forget what his earlier nature is like?
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I’m now thinking that perhaps it would have felt more realistic, for Show to have shown us more of Moo Young’s struggle to be the good person that he promises Jin Kang he would be.
Because, while I get that the whole idea is that Moo Young comes alive because of Jin Kang, I also want Jin Kang to feel less like magic fairy dust, if you know what I mean.
Jung So Min as Jin Kang
I have a soft spot for Jung So Min, and I really welcomed her as Jin Kang. With her easy demeanor and her fresh, open smile, she immediately felt like the heart of this story, to me.
I loved that she comes across as so human, and feels so real. I felt quite connected to her as a character, right off the bat, and I cared about her story and what happened to her, and that kept my heart engaged as well.
Jin Kang immediately struck me as passionate and dedicated, [SPOILER] what with her going so far as to get personally acquainted with every beer that Arts Brewery produces, in order to design for them well. I was duly impressed. [END SPOILER]
I also liked that Jin Kang appeared to have an inner steely core, [SPOILER] especially when it came to protecting Seung Ah from what she felt were suspicious actions by Moo Young. [END SPOILER]
At the same time, I had mixed feelings with how Jin Kang’s character developed later in our story.
I can appreciate that Jin Kang is drawn to Moo Young in a very intense way, but when Moo Young breaks up with her in Show’s late stretch, I was a little dismayed that Jin Kang basically takes it so badly that she can’t eat or sleep, like she’s lost the motivation to live.
Plus, Jin Kang says more than once in the course of the show, that she thinks that she literally would be unable to live without Moo Young.
This is not a sentiment that I can get behind personally, because I believe that one can get through and heal from even the worst heartbreak, and also, this behavior felt like a disservice to the stronger, steelier Jin Kang that we’d met in Show’s early episodes.
Ultimately, I feel that Jin Kang becomes too heavily defined by her relationship with Moo Young, and while I didn’t let that bother me too much during my watch, on hindsight, I do wish that Show could have perhaps treated this differently.
Park Sung Woong as Jin Gook
I really enjoy Park Sung Woong in general, and I thought him perfectly cast as Jin Gook, who strikes me as an earnest teddy bear at heart, despite his bundle of contradictions.
Right away, I was impressed by how passionate Jin Gook is, about seeking out the truth.
Despite the fact that most of the violent crimes team either looking down on him or patronizing him, Jin Gook remains dogged about digging out the truth, episode after episode.
And yet, the more we get to know him, the more obvious it is, that Jin Gook’s keeping secrets of his own. How ironic, that he would search so hard for truth as a detective, but so fiercely protect the truth in his own past.
I also really enjoyed Jin Gook’s devotion to being a good Oppa to Jin Kang. From driving her around, to making her food, Jin Gook’s such an earnest Oppa that my heart couldn’t help but go out to him.
It’s true that at times Jin Gook comes across as rather too devoted to protecting Jin Kang, to the point of stifling her.
I saw that some viewers took this as a sign that perhaps Jin Gook nursed more than brotherly feelings for Jin Kang, but I personally don’t think so. My take is that this might have been Jin Gook’s way of doing penance for jumping the gun so many years ago, and killing Kang Soon Goo (Im Ji Kyu).
My guess is that over time, in Jin Gook’s mind, this had all evolved into something where the harder he protected Jin Kang, the more he was atoning for his sins.
I think my biggest struggle to understand Jin Gook as a character, has to do with his treatment of Moo Young, in his efforts to protect Jin Kang.
In episode 11, in what Show presents as a desperate bid to stop Moo Young from seeing Jin Kang, Jin Gook stabs him at a crosswalk (side note: Jin Gook stabbing Moo Young is something I saw coming when the scene was set up, coz what else do drama characters standing across from each other at a deserted crosswalk do but stab each other? Ha).
The thing is, it never really makes sense in terms of why Jin Gook needs to prevent Moo Young from dating Jin Kang; why, in his and Tak’s words, that if Moo Young is who they think he is, then Jin Kang must never date him.
In the first place, it surprises me that Jin Gook would take such extreme measures to stop Jin Kang from seeing Moo Young, even before verifying Moo Young’s identity.
That strikes me as rather odd, especially given that Jin Gook is a detective, who knows better than the average civilian, that investigations and evidence are important to inform next steps.
Also, even after Jin Gook confirms Moo Young’s identity, it still doesn’t make sense to me, why he feels so strongly that Moo Young and Jin Kang should not be involved romantically. It would make sense to me if Moo Young is actually Jin Kang’s brother, but.. he isn’t.
It also struck me as odd, that Jin Gook wouldn’t have the same compassion for Moo Young, that he has for Jin Kang, since they both suffered similarly because of their parents. This never made sense to me right through to the end of our story.
However, I do think credit goes to Jin Gook for confessing to the crime that was never reported, and submitting his resignation.
Even though Moo Young and the law don’t hold him accountable, he wants to hold himself accountable, and I had to respect him for that.
Moo Young and Jin Kang together
Because Moo Young is presented with such strong sociopathic tendencies, I didn’t feel right rooting for anyone to be with him, even though I found him quite fascinating.
As such, my attitude towards the main romance in this story was quite different than is my usual. Normally, I’m quite happy to root for a story’s lead couple, but in this case, I often wondered if Jin Kang would be better off not getting involved with Moo Young.
At the same time, the OTP development in this story feels very different from most dramas I’ve seen, in that the two halves of this OTP seem drawn to each other, in spite of their own wills.
Moo Young wasn’t even aware that he liked Jin Kang until Yoo Ri pointed it out to him. And Jin Kang remains in strong denial of her own evolving feelings towards Moo Young, even though he confronts her about it.
I have to say, though, that, credit to both our leads, the chemistry between Moo Young and Jin Kang is pretty strong.
Sometimes, the air even feels kind of crackly between them, [SPOILER] like in episode 6, when Moo Young gets right up in Jin Kang’s face and asks her if she has no feelings for him at all. [END SPOILER]
To this end, I thought Show did a nice job of making Jin Kang’s losing battle to stay away from Moo Young believable. Her mind, backed up with advice from everyone, tells her to run like the wind away from Moo Young.
But she’s deeply drawn to him, and it’s clear that the emotion is overwhelming her, washing over her in such thick magnetic waves that she’s drowning in it all.
In comparison, the willpower she is able to muster is feeble and weak and no match whatsoever.
Having said that, I had pretty mixed feelings towards the blossoming of the OTP relationship.
On the one hand, it was nice to see Jin Kang and Moo Young share candid conversations, and Moo Young seeking to make Jin Kang happy by agreeing to learn to be a good person.
The giddy happiness that Jin Kang and Moo Young feel, as they begin to date in episode 10, is palpable through my screen. The stifled smiles, the covert texting, the first hand hold; it all feels so tantalizing.
Additionally, the entire way the consummation of the OTP relationship is treated in episode 10 is refreshingly frank.
As they sit on the rock by the lake where he used to sit as a child, Moo Young tells her honestly, “I want to sleep with you.” Jin Kang looks up into his face, and after one thoughtful beat, answers, “Me too.”
And the next time we see them, they’re playfully taking off each other’s clothes. There’s no urgency in the moment, only an unhurried, playful amusement, as they look into each other’s eyes and nuzzle.
Dang. That’s refreshingly sexy.
On that note, I’m very impressed with how natural and organic Seo In Guk and Jung So Min make the OTP skinship and connection feel.
The easy skin-to-skin contact, like when Jin Kang rests her face on Moo Young’s bare chest, feels exactly what I would expect of a real couple, and I couldn’t help but wonder how our lead actors managed to achieve this level of compelling connection. Very impressive, I thought.
At the same time, set against Jin Gook’s misgivings about Moo Young’s identity and his general distrust of Moo Young, there’s a pall of foreboding that falls over the newly-minted couple.
The way Moo Young reacts in episode 11, when Jin Kang gets upset during the housewarming dinner, when he says that he doesn’t really care about her brother, is so cold and indifferent, even though Jin Kang’s efforts to reason with him are warm and ardent.
The kicker is how, when Jin Kang stands up to leave, he tells her to just go. I was glad to see Jin Kang walk out of the apartment, but I was also rather disturbed when it turns out that she never left, and walked out only to teach him a lesson, and the two dissolve into cuddles and kisses all over again.
I mean, that is a red flag of significant proportions to be sweeping under the carpet of rose-tinted courtship fuzzies.
Also, it’s just quite troubling to me, that Jin Kang has to continue to lie to Jin Gook in order to bask in her relationship feels.
There’s something so dissonant about that. With lies stacking up like that, wouldn’t it be really hard to bask?
Because of all these things, my engagement with this loveline was always more of morbid fascination than of actually rooting for this couple to have a happy ending.
Jin Gook’s bond with Jin Kang
I found the sibling relationship between Jin Gook and Jin Kang, which feels so real and lived-in, very endearing indeed. I could totally believe that they are siblings who’ve spent a lot of time together.
I love the easy and natural rapport between Jung So Min and Park Sung Woong, in that I find it easy to believe that these two are brother and sister, and have spent years bickering with each other, and being affectionate with each other.
In episode 1, the way Jin Kang pops a trifle into her brother’s mouth at the party is so casual and offhanded, like this is so everyday and natural for them, just says it all.
Well, the way she doesn’t hesitate to ask him if she’s really ugly coz Moo Young said so, also contributes, heh.
I thought it was very sweet that Jin Gook is always so protective of Jin Kang, especially after Show reveals that Jin Kang isn’t actually Jin Gook’s biological sister. That Jin Gook would dedicate his life to caring for Jin Kang like a little sister, is no small sacrifice, and that moved me.
At the same time, I felt sad for the strain that this heretofore warm and cheery relationship suffered, the more Jin Kang is drawn to Moo Young.
In episode 10, I felt sad for Jin Gook, that Jin Kang would lie that she has to work, to get out of their annual temple tradition together, and all to spend the day with Moo Young. That she would lie so lightly, to get out spending time with her brother, was troubling to me.
And sadly, upon Moo Young’s arrival, Jin Gook’s relationship with Jin Kang never is the same again.
Powerful emotional scenes
One of my personal highlights of watching this show, is the powerful emotional scenes that get played out in the course of our story. Yes, this story leans rather dark and heavy, but the payoff, is having emotional climaxes played out wonderfully by consummate actors.
My favorites are the ones between Jin Gook and Jin Kang, mainly because they are both equally fervent in expressing their emotions. Here are just two instances where I came away very much impressed, by Park Sung Woong’s and Jung So Min’s deliveries.
E11. The confrontation between Jin Gook and Jin Kang is the highlight this hour, for me.
So much raw emotion, spilled out in quick succession via words that feel like they’ve literally been held captive and finally given sudden release, so much so that the physical bodies from which those words escape feel like they are on the verge of bursting their skins.
First, Jin Gook’s outburst, which feels so fervent and unwillingly honest, followed by Jin Kang’s retaliating outburst, which is even more stricken, stark and brutal. I felt like I was watching a vortex of emotions spiraling upwards beyond where I thought it could go. So very well done.
E12. Every time there’s a confrontation between Jin Gook and Jin Kang, it always feels so raw and real.
This episode, when Jin Kang reacts to Jin Gook’s matter-of-fact confession that he stabbed Moo Young, her disbelief and horror are palpable through my screen.
Jin Gook’s bond with Tak
While Show doesn’t ever properly give Jin Gook and Tak a loveline, it’s clear that there are feelings harbored on both sides, for the other.
Because of Jin Gook’s emotional baggage, Tak seems to accept that their relationship will not be romantic.
Yet, there continues to be a mutual care, understanding and loyalty between these two that endures in spite of it all.
Tak’s decision to continue to be there for Jin Gook strikes me as especially pure, and for this reason, I wanted to give this pair a quick shout-out.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
To be honest, this ending didn’t do much for me. Yes, the ending does kind of linger with me a little bit, but the feeling that lingers is actually of the meh variety. Not what Show was aiming for, I’m pretty sure.
With the full truth out, a lot of the earlier instances where I’d given Show the benefit of the doubt, thinking that there’d be a good explanation revealed in the future, turned out to be in vain.
In particular, Jin Gook’s whole “they can never be together” ranting rings really hollow, when we find out that Moo Young and Jin Kang aren’t siblings, and Jin Gook totally knew that.
So what was his Big Reason, then? That Moo Young’s dad killed her parents? That’s not a super strong reason, given that Moo Young continues to love Jin Kang, knowing that Jin Gook, who’s her older brother for all intents and purposes, killed his dad.
And if Moo Young can decide that, then it stands to reason that he and Jin Kang should be given a chance to make their own decisions around whether or not they could continue to love each other, knowing the bad history between their parents.
On a different note, I also want to say that this finale successfully unravels whatever feelings I had that Jin Kang really knows and understands Moo Young, better than everyone else, in earlier episodes.
This episode, it’s Yoo Ri (Go Min Si) who seems to understand Moo Young’s capacity for murder – or worse – if he has the will to do so, while Jin Kang seems to be discovering a lot about Moo Young that she didn’t know prior. This had the unfortunate effect of significantly watering down my belief in their love. Which.. totally didn’t help matters.
Now, let’s take a step back and take a slightly more macro look at Show’s chosen ending.
As I mentioned earlier in this review, I’m not super familiar with how things panned out in the source material, except for the fact that Moo Young’s and Jin Kang’s equivalent characters did turn out to be siblings, and that they died tragic deaths.
I kind of expected that the Korean remake wouldn’t actually go the incest route, because it’s too taboo and that’s just not how kdramas roll.
As a result, the finale really felt like an elaborate exercise of Show trying to be faithful to both the source material and the spirit of Hallyu, and crossing off as many checkboxes as possible, on both sides.
In theory, Show manages pretty well, in that, our key characters do die tragic deaths by the time the final credits roll, thus being faithful to at least that detail in the source material.
At the same time, Show manages to avoid having them be siblings, by creating a detailed story around why Moo Young and Jin Kang would have been in each other’s orbits as children, and why they would then plausibly be drawn to each other when they meet again as adults.
This whole childhood backstory does also feel quintessentially Hallyu, since Strong Childhood Connections are such a mainstay in kdramas.
However, I just wasn’t feeling it, you guys. Quite possibly because Show was aiming to fulfill so many requirements, this ending felt more forced than organic to me, and watching this finale, I actually felt pretty disengaged, and also, vaguely disappointed.
I kind of wish Show – well, writer-nim, really – had dared to pick a side and commit to it fully, rather than try to satisfy both sides to underwhelming degrees.
I think I would’ve preferred if Show had stuck to the incest storyline, because Genetic Sexual Attraction is A Thing, and I suspect the original writer had created this story, wanting to explore the topic of GSA.
If GSA had been the explanation for why Moo Young and Jin Kang had felt so drawn to each other, I would’ve found it more easily believable.
And, if GSA had been the explanation for why Moo Young and Jin Kang’s love was doomed from the start, I would have found that a more satisfying explanation too. Without the strong case that GSA would’ve made, though, what we do get feels like a much weaker case in comparison.
I mean, okay, being drawn to each other because of a Strong Childhood Connection is something that I can still buy, though it does cause me to roll my eyes somewhat at the tropey-ness of it, but, the reasons we get for their doomed love all feel kind of flat, y’know?
Especially the reason that they had to die: coz Se Ran’s secretary shot them. It just doesn’t feel like a narratively satisfying explanation.
On the other hand, if Show had committed to serving up a softer, Hallyu version of the story, then I would’ve preferred if Show had dared to let Moo Young and Jin Kang live.
Let Moo Young pay for his crime, and yet still end on a hopeful note, with the expectation of a new and brighter future.
This middle of the road choice just feels wishy-washy and uninspired. And that leaves me feeling uninspired as well, unfortunately.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Show is quite an engaging watch from the outset, but its poetry rings hollow at the end of it all.
FINAL GRADE: B