I’ve come to the conclusion that this is one of those shows that either really works for you, or really doesn’t. Some of my drama friends seem to really like this one, which is kinda why I thought I might, too.
For the record, I kinda-sorta liked this one okay after the first episode, but afterwards, there just wasn’t any spark for me with this show (kinda like how a second lead in a drama somehow never seems to manage to spark with a lead character, ha), and since dramas have consistently taught us not to try to force love, after 16 episodes of trying – and failing – to get sucked into this one, I’m calling it quits, you guys.
On the upside, at least I’m taking my drama lessons to heart? 😉
MY OVERALL TRAJECTORY WITH THIS SHOW
My initial experience with this show was a little patchy, in that I didn’t love it right away, but I didn’t hate it right away either. For me, Show fell somewhere in that middling no man’s land of, “MAYBE this might get better?” Which, if you’ve been watching dramas for a while, you’d know easily turns into (horrors!) Drama Purgatory, as you wait and hope for Show to get better.
From episode 1, logic stretches abound (more on that later), and Show also sometimes leans more comedic than is my usual preference, but by the episode 5 & 6 mark, Show had begun to grow on me, in spite of myself, and in spite of what I saw as Show’s downsides. Not bad.
After several episodes of moderate enjoyment of this show, though, the narrative seemed to take a turn (to my eyes, for the worse), and I began to feel disconnected and bored. Unfortunately, that feeling only endured, with each passing episode that I watched. After 6 more episodes of Show plateauing for me, I decided that it was time to admit that this watch was never going to be one that would steal my heart.
And so here we are.
STUFF I LIKED
Shin Hye Sun as Yeon Seo
Ever since enjoying Shin Hye Sun in Thirty But Seventeen, I’ve had her on my radar as a very talented and promising actress. So, it’s no surprise, really, that she is the biggest reason I lasted 16 episodes of this show.
I felt that Shin Hye Sun did a good job making Yeon Seo very quickly understandable and sympathetic, despite Yeon Seo’s very cold and prickly exterior. Show offers up flashes of vulnerability, and Shin Hye Sun makes the most of those, to present Yeon Seo as more sympathetic than repulsive, even in Show’s initial episodes.
Every moment of heart &/or deep expression involving Yeon Seo worked to draw me into our narrative, and Shin Hye Sun does wonderfully, each and every time.
Here are just a few of the memorable scenes where I felt suitably impressed by Shin Hye Sun’s delivery.
E3-4. That moment when Yeon Seo forces a bright smile in front of Mr. Jo’s (Jang Hyun Sung) memorial, because she remembered his words to her, that he’d like to see her shining brightly, one last time. That moment was very well delivered, I thought. So much palpable effort and pain, rippling under Yeon Seo’s smile.
E7-8. The more I see Yeon Seo struggle, the more my heart goes out to her, and the more I root for her. It was poignant to see her trying to manage without anyone by her side, and it felt like a breakthrough, when she went to Dan (Kim Myung Soo / L) and asked him to come back, admitting that she needs him. Of course, that’s driven by pride too, because she wants to be able to live up to the promise / threat that she made to her aunt. But it was still a moment of vulnerability with Dan, and I appreciate that.
E11-12. I have to commend Shin Hye Sun for her delivery of Yeon Seo’s hallucinogen-fueled outburst at Fantasia Night. She is arresting, even as she sways and stumbles, slurring her words while delivering her lines in 3 languages. She makes it look so effortless and natural, like of course this is how Yeon Seo would behave after eating a very spiked grape designed to completely knock her out of her senses.
E11-12. Yeon Seo’s drunken, tortured, heartbroken dance is also wonderfully delivered. I’m so impressed that Shin Hye Sun is able to portray such a complex mix of emotions, while toeing the line between being clumsy-drunk and painfully graceful.
STUFF THAT WAS OK
Kim Myung Soo (L) as Kim Dan
L is.. alright. As in, I haven’t seen him on my screen in years, and I don’t have the strongest impression of his acting ability, but I have some affection for him from his outing in 2012’s Shut Up Flower Boy Band.
Overall, I found L’s performance in this show just ok. On the upside, I can see that he’s trying. But, uh, on the downside, I can see that he’s trying, if you know what I mean. 😛
I found L overly bright and flaily in the comic scenes, and not very natural in some of the more intense scenes. However, there were certain quiet emotional beats where I thought he did really nicely. [SPOILER] For example, I thought L delivered very solidly in the scene in episode 10, where Yeon Seo’s dancing makes Dan’s heart hurt. There’s so much confusion and pain in Dan’s eyes, like he is truly bewildered by how his body and emotions are betraying him, while still feeling those very strong emotions. Very nice, I thought. [END SPOILER]
Overall, I didn’t dislike L in this, though I’d hoped he could’ve done better, which is why he’s in this section.
The OTP Connection [VAGUE SPOILERS]
I actually enjoyed the section where Dan is working to help Yeon Seo, and she can’t help but be more open and vulnerable with him, in spite of herself.
Basically, the more Yeon Seo is able to be vulnerable with Dan, the more I found myself enjoying my watch. I just liked the idea that because Dan is the one who spends the most time around Yeon Seo, he’s able to see beyond her cold and prickly surface, to the scared, hurting heart on the inside. And even though I wish L’s delivery was less petulant and flaily, I do like the idea that Dan isn’t afraid to talk back to Yeon Seo, and that she somehow grows accustomed and even a little fond of their bickering dynamic.
I also really liked watching the bond of trust grow between them, as they worked together with Dan coaching Yeon Seo to walk on her own again, and Yeon Seo learning to lean on Dan and trust him, in spite of herself.
Their solidarity during key moments were highlights of my watch, as were the moments of honesty, and on the other end of the scale, the moments of everyday domesticity.
To be honest, I’m not super on board with the chemistry between L and Shin Hye Sun, although they do look cute together, visually. When they’re on my screen together, their energies don’t feel very matched, and it doesn’t help that Shin Hye Sun is basically out-acting L, almost all the time.
To add to the mix, I felt like there were times when L’s delivery actually hampered the landing of an OTP scene. [SPOILER] For example, the drunk scene in episode 6 was better in concept than in execution. There’s something stiff and unnatural about the way L plays Dan’s drunken wobbling and staggering, and for me, it did take away from the moment. [END SPOILER]
The other thing that I didn’t take to, was the childhood connection between Dan and Yeon Seo, that Show starts to hint at as early as episodes 3 & 4, and which, by the time I decided to drop this show, had become front-and-center of our story. I guess I’m quite jaded by the childhood connection trope, which is so overused in kdramas in general.
The way ballet is portrayed
To be honest, I don’t know much about ballet at all, but to my eyes, it did feel like ballet was an awkward presence in our narrative.
For one thing, it’s hard to manage the fact that Shin Hye Sun is not a ballet dancer, when Yeon Seo is supposed to be an extremely gifted ballet dancer. The cutaways to her body double during dancing scenes are quite obvious, but I do get that this can’t quite be helped.
The other thing that I found distracting, is how the dancers are shown coming up with their own interpretation of Giselle, in episodes 15 & 16. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t ballet an art form where dancers learn pre-determined choreography? Additionally, Yeon Seo is shown giving a very emotional, moving performance as her audition for the role of Giselle, and while it’s convincing on the emotional front, my brain couldn’t help fixating on the little detail, that what Yeon Seo was performing looked wayyy more like an abstract interpretative dance than ballet.
Overall, while this all isn’t ideal, I do understand that this was likely all done in the name of artistic license, in order to bring out the emotional journey of our protagonist, as well as to work around the limitations of Shin Hye Sun not being a ballet dancer. Which is why this is in this section.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Lee Dong Gun as Ji Kang Woo
I don’t think Show means for Kang Woo to be a likable character, so I guess the fact that I dislike him shouldn’t count against Show, heh.
I found Kang Woo overly brusque and aggressive in general, and really disliked his shouty style of directing the dancers. How typical of kdrama, but also, how completely unhelpful. How does shouting “Again!” at people help them improve?
Also, I found Kang Woo’s backstory and general narrative arc really bizarre. [SPOILER] He basically loved a human who looked exactly like Yeon Seo, and after that woman died, he found Yeon Seo, and now he’s getting involved in Yeon Seo’s life and pushing her to dance, and getting all threatening and possessive over her, just because she looks just like his dead love? That’s.. not ok.
Plus, how preposterous, that he would threaten to make Dan disappear if Dan didn’t resign from his job. What presumptuous bully behavior. Ugh. [END SPOILER]
The scheming relatives
Essentially, I felt like our supporting characters, specifically the scheming relatives trying to steal Fantasia from Yeon Seo, are more like caricatures than real people. In an early episode, Evil Aunt (Do Ji Won) walks around and berates her husband (Kim Seung Wook) for his innocence and foolishness; this scene looked to me like that of a wicked witch in a musical, doing her song and dance number.
I failed to care about all of the scheming, and Evil Aunt in particular came across in the same vein as a mustache-twirling type of villain, to me.
The weird / unclear mythology [VAGUE SPOILERS]
For a show where one of its protagonists is an angel, I felt like the mythology in this show was weirdly unclear. It feels like this drama world’s supernatural world is mainly based on Christianity, but yet.. not. It’s like writer-nim took some key things from Christianity, like the existence of God, angels and scripture, and then mixed in whatever felt convenient to the narrative.
It puzzled me greatly, that angels could just choose not to be angels, if they so desired, and that this was all signified by the color of the embroidered feather on their angel handkerchiefs. Additionally, the way this show portrays God as a cruel, selfish, exacting divine being who punishes his followers is.. jarring, to me. Plus, the punishing angels in episode 12, who both appear armed with some kind of heavenly guns felt more supervillain-in-a-superhero-movie than supernatural, to me. It just all felt really weird to me, personally.
[SPOILER] Not gonna lie; the whole incident in episode 13 & 14, where Sunbae Hoo (Kim In Kwon) dissipates Angel Noel was disturbing to me. Essentially, what this scene tells me, is that Sunbae Hoo knew all along that Angel Noel was there at the nursing home with his human love, and just let him be, until he decided that he needed to show Dan his potential future if he didn’t quash his longing to become human. That seems so cruel and so.. dismissive of Angel Noel’s life. [END SPOILER] This is actually one of the key scenes that made me question whether I wanted to keep watching this show.
Logic stretches and lapses
Like I mentioned earlier, there are many logic lapses and stretches in this show. While I get that this is fantasy, and therefore some logic leaps are inevitable, I did feel like Show took quite a few liberties in throwing logic out the window. I didn’t like that so much.
Here are a few key examples of when the lack of logic leaped out and kinda hit me in the face.
E3-4. This is logically impossible. Yeon Seo receives a cornea donation while in emergency surgery (from Mr. Jo, who died in the accident), and has the bandages taken off and is able to see, while the funeral is still on-going? How fast is her recovery, really? Or how long did it take for Mr. Jo’s funeral to be arranged? It doesn’t match up either way.
E5-6. I think I just have to accept that people don’t behave in a logical, normal manner in this drama world. Kang Woo goes to Yeon Seo’s house, and when he doesn’t get a response after pressing the doorbell, he finds a way to enter the house on his own, instead of turning around and leaving. That’s illegal.
E9-10. There is no way Yeon Seo’s strength and agility would improve this fast, even if she’s determined. It’s a bit jarring, to see her walk haltingly with help one episode, and then push herself hard to dance all of a sudden. Granted, her inability to walk well is psychosomatic, but even then, for her to make such great leaps forward is quite unbelievable.
Generally speaking, I found that I felt more and more disconnected to Show’s heavier and heavier vibe. There’s Dan running away from Yeon Seo, determined not to hurt her, and Yeon Seo, being sad and hurting anyway, and then there’s also the tragic childhood backstory which I didn’t care for too much, getting more and more screen time.
Also, to be honest, everyone taking the ballet thing So Seriously, when it didn’t even look like Show got the ballet right to begin with, made it hard for me to get immersed in this story. That, and all the muddled-up mythology that Show was serving up, all just got to be too much for me.
I realized that with each episode I watched, I kept wondering whether to keep watching. I didn’t have strong feelings towards Show, so its highs didn’t thrill me much, but at the same time, the lows made me want to find fault with it. That’s not a good combination at all, and at the episode 16 mark, I decided that it was time for me to quit while I was ahead, and walk away from this one.
Interestingly, this morning, I decided to check out Kmuse’s recap of episodes 29 & 30, just to see what I’d be missing, and ooh boy, did Show sound like an intense mess.
[SPOILER] Dan and Yeon Seo both trying to die in order to keep each other safe; Dan getting stabbed; Angel Hoo breaking code and killing the guy after Dan and thus getting dissipated; it’s all Very Dramatic Indeed. But to top it all off, Evil Cousin (Gil Eun Hye) attempts to stab Dan, but Yeon Seo gets stabbed in his stead when she throws herself in Evil Cousin’s path – AND, this happens during intermission on Opening Night, so instead of getting medical help, Yeon Seo chooses to keep dancing, while bleeding out from her stab wound. Say, what??? [END SPOILER]
Sounds to me like Show went full steam ahead, with its vision for Intense Melodrama That Doesn’t Always Make Sense, and now I feel more sure than ever, that dropping this one was the best decision for me.