I think it’s time for me to admit that I’m just not this show’s target audience, because try as I might, I keep losing interest in this one.
They say that life’s too short for bad dramas; I think it’s also true that life’s too short to force yourself to keep watching dramas that you’re just not feeling, even if lots of other people love it. I’m now literally just 2 hours away from finishing this one, but I just don’t have it in me to keep going, I’m afraid. I’m dropping out, 28 episodes out of this show’s 32.
You might think that’s a waste, since I’m just 2 hours away from finishing my watch. But looking at it another way, we could say it’s 2 hours gained, that I can spend on some other drama that I’d enjoy more. That’s not a bad silver lining, eh?
MY OVERALL TRAJECTORY WITH THIS SHOW
After several of you left me messages saying that you loved this show and that I ought to check it out, and after also seeing lots of online buzz about it, I did dive into this one, and I did end up getting sucked in right away. I felt fully engaged, and looked forward to more episodes – at least for a while.
I can’t pinpoint when it happened, exactly, but somewhere in Show’s middle stretch, I found my interest waning. Show didn’t feel as fresh as it had at first, and I found myself feeling more and more disconnected from both the story and the characters. I hung in there, hoping that my response to Show would improve, and that my interest would pick up again, eventually. Alas, ’twas not to be.
I found myself feeling more disinterested than ever, by Show’s late episodes, which is when I decided to drop out. For the record though, there are lots of fans who love this show, so just because I don’t love it, doesn’t mean you can’t either.
STUFF I LIKED
When I liked Show, I liked it a lot. I mean, I’d felt sucked in mere minutes into my watch, and that’s not something that happens very often.
Here’s a quick list of the things I liked, when I liked this drama.
1. The premise feels fresh and interesting. [SOME SPOILERS]
Right away, Show’s premise felt fresh and unique to me, and quickly turned into one my favorite things about this drama. It felt like Show was giving me fresh perspective on the dramas and stories that I regularly consumed, and that was quite a thrill, for me.
I found the development of Dan Oh’s (Kim Hye Yoon) awareness very well done, in that, this is exactly how secondary characters are treated. They’re placed in scenes for specific purposes, and that’s why Dan Oh finds herself suddenly inserted into different scenarios, and suddenly offering tissues to Joo Da (Lee Na Eun).
They’re also very minimally developed, with just a few things attributed to them, which is why Dan Oh finds her friend Sae Mi (Kim Ji In) consistently saying the same thing to her, and it’s always about Baek Kyung (Lee Jae Wook) and whether everything’s alright with them, and how much Dan Oh likes him.
That’s basically the extent to which the writer has put thought into developing Dan Oh and Sae Mi. It’s quite thrilling to see how these things unfolding on my screen fit so perfectly into what I would expect of a manhwa writer to do with their characters.
The nod to Boys Over Flowers is also a clever choice, because that’s not only an iconic story, it’s also a story context that’s been done in multiple variations. Even Goong comes to mind, with the female lead spilling stuff on the male lead. In the context of such an iconic story, it’s somehow easier to identify what’s pure set-up and what’s real.
I also found it an interesting concept, the stage vs. the shadows. And I found it amusing to see how Dan Oh fights against her lines and scripted behavior, to no avail, and thus resignedly goes along with it, like if there’s no way around it, then the only way is through it.
2. Kim Hye Yoon is pretty great as Dan Oh
I found Kim Hye Yoon pitch perfect as our manhwa character Dan Oh. From the exaggerated facial expressions and gestures, to her high-pitched voice, she just screamed cartoon character, to me.
I loved watching Kim Hye Yoon hamming it up as Dan Oh, especially during the early part of our story, where Dan Oh assumes she’s the female lead character, and preens for the major story moment that she sees coming. Her reaction faces are excellent, and her comic timing is fantastic as well. Her delivery of Dan Oh felt natural and all-in, even in the most awkward, embarrassing situations, and I appreciated that a lot.
3. Dan Oh is a pretty endearing character [SOME SPOILERS]
I quickly found Dan Oh to be rather endearing as a character. I especially liked her determination and defiance against the writer, putting in all her energy into going against what’s written for her, intent on making her own reality.
Dan Oh’s blithe quest to find her Mystery Hero in episode 4 is unabashed and hilarious. That unabashed quality in Dan Oh really appeals to me, coz it tells me that she really doesn’t care what other people think.
I also liked that Dan Oh is such a resilient, proactive character with such a positive, hopeful outlook, despite her poor health set-up and the somber prognosis that comes with it. When she finally breaks down in tears at the end of episode 6, admitting that she was wrong, and that there’s no changing her fate, I really felt for her, because it must have taken so much, to tear such a resilient character down to this.
Additionally, I found Dan Oh being so resilient and upbeat about her poor health, very bittersweet. It’s not as if it’s fake just because it’s only on stage, because she’s also shown having to take medicine in the shadows.
At this point at least, I sincerely rooted for Dan Oh to succeed in her efforts to change her fate.
4. Show can be quite funny
For me, most of Show’s Funny comes from the self-aware characters chafing against what is scripted for them on the Stage, or commenting on the writer’s cliched writing.
One of my favorite bits is Dan Oh’s continued eye-rolling commentary on the romantic goings-on of the main couple’s narrative arc. Yes, those are all the hallmarks of a typical classic Hallyu romance, and as a drama viewer, I recognize them too. It’s just really amusing to have droll commentary from a supposed extra in the scene.
The fact that Dan Oh can see all the animation effects, complete with angel sunbeams and cherry blossoms around the story’s female lead, is quite funny, and her unimpressed reactions are even funnier.
It’s also funny that Dan Oh is so aggrieved and annoyed at having to react in such a docile, deferential manner with Baek Kyung, when all she wants to do is tell him off, on the inside. In the same vein, Do Hwa’s (Jung Gun Joo) intense dislike for his violin-playing setup is quite amusing, especially when he’s thinking upset anti-violin thoughts while playing said violin. His incredulity at being written to play the violin, when he feels it makes more sense for him to be doing something else, never got old for me.
It was also quite amusing to see both Dan Oh and Do Hwa cringing at the lines they’re written to speak, protesting in differing degrees in their voiceovers.
5. Show seems to have some interesting themes
I’m sure if one were to put more deliberate thought into it, that a pretty interesting argument could be formed, about what Show might be saying, at a deeper level.
Even with my fairly casual viewing of the show, I found a couple of interesting questions popping up.
E3-4. Dan Oh’s quest to change and enlarge her role to more than just an extra, is kind of an interesting exploration of free will vs. fate, I think. How much of our life depends on fate, and how much of it can we change, based on our own efforts?
Dan Oh’s observation that her friends who aren’t self aware all seem happy, is interesting food for thought: is ignorance truly bliss?
E5-6. Is there a parallel here, with how people need to put up with a lot of stuff they may not like or agree with at work, only to cut loose in their personal time? That thing that Dan Oh says to Do Hwa, that if you get hurt over every little thing, you can’t survive the world of manhwas. I could say the same for the real world.
6. Some of our supporting characters seem interesting
I think my favorites among the secondary characters, are Do Hwa and Joo Da.
Do Hwa is just the most pure-hearted, caring person in this drama world, and I found his emotional attachment to his friends very sweet. [SPOILER] Do Hwa being so emotional about Dan Oh’s deteriorating health and potential death in episode 9 is pretty sweet. And Do Hwa is so sincerely torn up over Haru’s (Ro Woon) disappearance, and then so over the moon over Haru’s reappearance, that I just want to pat him on the head for being a sweetheart. [END SPOILER]
As for Joo Da, I found that as Show hinted that she had possibly become self-aware, I grew more interested to see what the real Joo Da is like. [SPOILER] In episodes 23-24, when I was already struggling to enjoy my watch, I perked up most, when Joo Da stood up to her bullies and smacked them down like a boss. That was quite a thrill. I immediately became more interested to see more of Joo Da, because I was interested to know how much she knows, and what she thinks of it all. [END SPOILER]
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
It was at around the episode 14 mark that I found myself enjoying my watch less. Everything was just grabbing me less, and I felt less interested in what happened on my screen.
The novelty of the premise had worn off, and at this moment, it also felt like not much was happening, plot-wise. On top of that, the glumness of the self-aware characters at this point of the story, wasn’t much fun to watch either. The reason I kept watching, was because I wanted to know how this story world works.
Here’s a quick run-down of the things that just didn’t work very well for me, in Show’s second half.
1. Show seems to serve up more questions than answers
Show does set up rules within its drama world, and sometimes, new rules are introduced in the story, as we go. However, I found that I had more and more questions as I progressed during my watch. It felt that as far as Show was concerned, some things just were, no questions needed. This didn’t sit so well, with me.
Here’re some examples of questions I had, which weren’t satisfactorily answered, by the time I dropped out.
E11-12. If all traces of Haru have been wiped from the storyboard, where another boy has sat in his seat all this time, how come Dan Oh can find the drawings and Haru’s sketchbook at the pool? Is this manhwa world malfunctioning?
E13-14. Why and how does Haru get to come back, and this time, as a character with lines, no less? Was this a direct result of him making changes to the storyboard? If that’s the case, isn’t he getting promoted for bad behavior, as far as the writer is concerned?
And if he’s truly not self-aware like Show is serving him up to be, why is he able to see the magical wormhole? Or is that just part of his DNA, being able to see the wormhole? Coz it does seem like he was able to see the wormhole back in earlier episodes when he wasn’t yet self-aware. But, why, though?
E19-20. Why would the heart rate monitor go off before the actual stage starts? That usually doesn’t happen. And why would Haru know that the stage is about to start?
E19-20. I thought that because Haru is now an extra with a name and a role, that he wouldn’t be able to keep changing the stage, but he does. How does that work?
E19-20. The way the stage keeps changing towards the end of the hour, it really looks like the writer is purposefully keeping Dan Oh and Haru apart. If that’s the case, then how do they manage to find each other in the end? Did the writer just decide to give them a break?
E23-24. Why is Haru able to defy the decided order of events, and gain enough control of his body to change the stage?
2. I couldn’t get into the main loveline
To be brutally honest, I was not very invested in any of the lovelines in this show; it all just didn’t pop for me, unfortunately – including the main loveline between Dan Oh and Haru.
[VAGUE SPOILER] Perhaps we are supposed to buy that the love between Dan Oh and Haru is so strong and fated that it spans different manhwa universes, lifetimes and timelines. But that setup implies a depth and intensity that I’m not associating with these characters. To me, Dan Oh and Haru’s romance is sweet and innocent, and that’s about it. [END SPOILER]
I’m pretty sure this show is targeted at a younger audience. I don’t personally find the romantic developments between Dan On and Haru swoony, but a younger audience might.
As a side note, I just wanted to say that Ro Woon doesn’t display a very wide acting range, but I must admit that there’s a strong sensual quality about him. His soft deep voice, his bedroomy eyes, the slight glisten on his skin. It’s probably little wonder that Dan Oh – and the above-mentioned younger audience – gets so spazzed out by him. I, however, remained unmoved by his charms, heh.
3. I found it hard to connect with key characters [SPOILER]
Although I mentioned earlier, that I found Dan Oh endearing, I have to admit that the more Dan Oh spazzes over Haru and gets all dizzy over how much she likes him, the less interested I actually became, over the supposed OTP relationship, and also, the less believable I found her, as a character.
I know that Dan Oh is a manhwa character and all, but I found it decidedly weird that for a good stretch in the middle of our story, she seems to have absolutely no negative emotions – fear, sadness, wistfulness etc – about dying soon. This, when she’s had insight to the storyboard about her impending death. She’s only interested in her romantic developments with Haru, and I found this distinct lack of interest in her very possible death, very weird.
I mean, I get that she says she’ll stop trying to change her setup because she’s afraid that it’ll cause her to lose Haru again, but to see her so over the moon at the little romantic developments between her and Haru, and seem to have no concept that if she dies she won’t be around to have any more moments with him, is really odd. She also seems to have zero regrets about not being able to change her setup.
I tried to rationalize that she’s a manhwa character and therefore not a real human being with real human being feelings. But in this world, the manhwa characters do have feelings, so it’s not like she’s designed not to have feelings. It all felt very jarring, to me.
And so, although episodes 25-26 are supposed to be sad, I found that I liked Show better than in the last few episodes prior. Mainly, I found Dan Oh’s sadness and fear a more appropriate reaction to her situation, than her previous hearts-in-eyes oblivion. It’s more believable, and more relatable. I no longer had to rationalize that she doesn’t have real feelings because she’s not a real person.
This didn’t completely fix my issue of not finding Dan Oh believable, but it helped.
4. I don’t feel fully convinced of Baek Kyung’s character turnaround [SPOILER]
For the record, I do think Lee Jae Wook does a good job with the material he’s given. But also for the record, I did not find Baek Kyung’s character turnaround at all convincing.
Kyung is shown saying and doing some awful things to Dan Oh, from the beginning of our story. Over time, he’s shown to possess a softer side. But, he also consistently returns to his terrible mean behavior. I found it hard to understand all this back and forth, and even though, by the time I dropped out, Kyung says that he truly cares about Dan Oh, I found it hard to believe him. I keep feeling like he’s going to disappoint me again, once I turn another corner. But then again, maybe that’s Show’s intention? I never finished this one, after all.
I’d had every intention of watching this show to the end, even if I had to drag myself to the finish line. I just needed to know how this story world works, and why it works that way, and what happens in the end – at least, that’s what I told myself.
While watching episodes 27-28, however, I found myself dozing off. I literally fell asleep at least 6 times, and had to rewind to where I’d left off, to see what I’d missed. It felt so effortful, working to finish watching this pair of episodes, that I just couldn’t bear the thought of repeating the process two more times, to get to the end of this story. I’ll just have to check out recaps to see what happened to these characters, and call it a day.
But like I said earlier, don’t let my negative experience deter you from checking this out yourself, if this sounds like your kind of show. While you’re at it, please give Dan Oh and Haru some love for me, will ya? Coz I definitely didn’t love them very much at all, on my own, heh.