My last foray into a fantasy kdrama dealing with angels and devils didn’t go too well (I’m looking at you, Angel’s Last Mission, cough), so when I heard some rumblings of dissatisfaction on the grapevine about how this show about selling one’s soul to the devil seemed a little all over the place, I was ready to give this one a blind pass without actually taking the time to check it out.
Thank goodness for blog regular Putri, who convinced me to give this show a try, after she’d watched it and really liked it herself. Once I actually got going with this show, I was pleasantly surprised by how engaging I found it, and now that I’ve emerged on the other side, I’m happy to report that Show even manages its mythology reasonably well.
Since one of my pet peeves with fantasy dramas is that the mythology isn’t clearly presented, &/or crumbles on itself by the end of the story, I count this a pretty big plus in Show’s favor. The mythology presented isn’t perfect, sure, but it retains its structure enough, and is true enough to itself, that I found myself reasonably satisfied on this point. Which then also helped me enjoy the rest of the story more, too. Plus! I even found myself jiving with Show’s humor, uh, most of the time. Win, win, and win.
Thank you, dear Putri, because I hafta say, I’m glad I didn’t end up missing out on this one.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s a collection of OST tracks in case you’d like to listen to them while you read the review.
If you’ve watched kdramas for a while, you tend to start anticipating a certain narrative rhythm with each show, since most dramas align themselves to a certain format. This show doesn’t do that, and that can feel a bit disorienting, I think. I do think it helps to know upfront that Show dances to a somewhat different beat than most other kdramas, because that will help clear the way for us to just let Show tell its story.
Right away, I thought Show did a very solid job of its first episode, with giving us a backstory and a current setup, and then pulling the plug and ending on a cliffhanger where I had no idea where the story would go from here. On top of that, I also quickly concluded that this drama felt different and unique, and it didn’t feel like Show was recycling tired drama tropes like so many other dramas do. A very refreshing start, I thought.
On that note, it’s probably a good idea for me to mention upfront that this isn’t a romance. Yes, that’s a touch spoilery, but in this case, I think it helps (I’ll explain later). Most kdramas find a way to squeeze in a main loveline, regardless of the story’s premise, but this drama doesn’t, and I think it works to Show’s advantage. In the end, this is more a story of individual journeys of growth, realization, and to some extent, salvation.
Another thing that I think is useful to mention here, is that even though we have a devil as a main character, and angel-like beings dotting our story, the mythology in this drama world is all its own. It might be inspired by our general understandings of God, angels and demons, but the mythology here certainly doesn’t follow any scriptural basis. I think it helps to make that distinction early.
Keeping these few things in mind, I do think that you’d be in a better position to enjoy what Show has to offer.
STUFF I LIKED
Putri had mentioned in her comment that the music in this show was good, and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.
Compared to a lot of other drama soundtracks which tend to feature big love ballads, we get a lot more pared-down bare acoustic renditions of songs that feel so raw, so heartfelt, and so.. soulful. Really nice.
According to this article, the songs were written specifically to connect to the narrative, and it shows. From the lyrics of the songs to the vibe of each track, we can easily see how they each connect to our characters. I like that cohesiveness a lot.
Another thing that I love, is that our actors really do play their own instruments without substitutes, each of them taking guitar lessons for months, in order to pull off the performances. Jung Kyung Ho also took voice lessons, and it’s clear that he does all of his own singing in the show as well. This level of realism, music-wise, really appeals to the musician part of my brain, and it was such a mentally harmonious experience, seeing hands and fingers moving as they should, with the music.
I don’t often say this, but the music really is one of the big highlights of this show.
Jung Kyung Ho as Ha Rip / Seo Dong Cheon
Jung Kyung Ho is perfectly cast as the vain, successful Ha Rip, who’s really nervous and terrified about his contract with the devil coming to an end. I fully believe him as an arty, musical type, and I believe him even more, as the guy desperately trying to get out of handing over his soul to the devil.
I find myself very impressed with Jung Kyung Ho, because in this story, he needs to portray his character in a wide range of ages, from his thirties to his sixties, and he also needs to deliver a wide range of emotions, from his character’s most successful, glorious moments, down to his most downcast, discouraged and desperate, and he nails it all.
Jung Kyung Ho manages to imbue Ha Rip with hints of likability and humanity, even at Ha Rip’s most vain and self-centered, and I never found myself disliking Ha Rip, thanks to Jung Kyung Ho’s nuanced delivery. Instead, I found Ha Rip complex and understandable, even at points when his behavior was at its worst.
Here are just a handful of my personal Ha Rip highlights.
E3. Ha Rip’s not as heartless as he thinks he is. Yes, it’s under coercion by Kang Ha (Oh Eui Sik), but he does go out on 4 different trips in one night, to take Yi Kyung’s (Lee Seol) place as a substitute driver, so that she won’t lose jobs in the future. That was sweet, and also rather amusing.
Plus, Ha Rip even makes porridge for Yi Kyung for breakfast the next morning. He’s all gruff words, but his kindness ends up leaking out.
E6. Ha Rip seems very sincere and genuine in helping Yi Kyung succeed with her music, and not all of it seems calculated with her future fall from grace in mind. He often seems reflexively helpful in his advice, and instinctively caring about her well-being. He’s not a bad person.
E9. Ha Rip’s experience this episode feels deep and also unavoidable, almost. The life that he thought he’d put behind him is coming back to haunt him more and more, and the specter of his past self is looming larger and larger, until the point that he cannot help but confront the demons of his past.
That performance was brilliant, in overall execution and Jung Kyung Ho’s delivery of it. I felt Ha Rip’s nerves as he contemplated going on stage again, playing his own song for the very first time in years, and I felt the memories flood over him, as he immersed himself in the music, and I felt the music carry him back to key moments as he relived them. I felt his emotion pouring out into the music, with his increasingly feverish handling of the guitar, and as Show replaced Ha Rip with older Seo Dong Cheon, standing there, performing with Yi Kyung, lost in the music, lost in the moment, I felt like Ha Rip had finally touched his old self – his old soul – right there on the stage. So brilliantly done.
Also. Man, that electric guitar solo was, well, electrifying. Jung Kyung Ho is freakishly good.
And it felt completely right, that Ha Rip would then fall so sick as to spend a week, feverish and dead to the world, as his dreams brought back all his forgotten memories. It felt like such a natural response for him, after going through such a confronting, overwhelming experience.
Park Sung Woong as Mo Tae Kang / Ryu
I love Park Sung Woong, and it was a treat watching him as our story’s resident devil. Whether Ryu / Tae Kang is being menacing, disinterested or dorky, I found our titular devil extremely watchable. Park Sung Woong gives Ryu an air of unruffled calm that makes him feel smooth, confident and powerful.
Because Show doesn’t treat its devil as an absolute evil like more orthodox belief systems, Ryu gets to experience a range of emotion that I wouldn’t expect of a more “normal” devil, and even has a bit of a growth journey of his own.
Park Sung Woong makes Ryu’s journey as entertaining as it is poignant, and one of my personal highlights is him reacting to his own newfound feelings with confusion, bemusement, bewilderment and a whole lotta denial, heh.
I will talk more about Ryu / Tae Kang in other sections, but here are just a few highlights, for starters.
E1. Park Sung Woong is so smooth and cool, as this story’s devil. He seems so unruffled and perfectly coiffed all the time, and his supernatural powers tell me quickly that he isn’t someone to be messed with. At the same time, he seems almost benevolent, expressing that he’s showing mercy to the drunk driver, when that mercy ends up allowing the drunk driver to cause a terrible accident. That irony isn’t lost on me; the devil’s idea of mercy doesn’t lead to positive outcomes.
E7. I’m confused, is this devil new to devil-ing? Coz his questions about humans and their nature and how they operate, totally sound like they’re coming from a newbie, not a devil that’s been dealing with humans since forever.
E7. Woot to seeing Park Sung Woong in a legit action scene, complete with asskicking action moves and him taking down an entire mob. But that’s rather disturbing though, that he gets away with actually severely injuring those actors and extras? Hm.
E8. Wait. The devil is Manager Gong’s (Kim Won Hae) son?? Woah. I need a minute. So.. Manager Gong is a heavenly being and his son became the devil as an act of rebellion? I did not see that coming.
E9. Manager Gong’s conversation with his demon son feels strangely universal; this son is upset that Dad gave so much of himself to ungrateful humans, and so now he’s out to prove that the humans are useless and not at all as endearing as Dad seems to think.
Lee Seol as Yi Kyung
This was my introduction to Lee Seol, and I hafta say, I enjoyed her very well, as Yi Kyung.
Yi Kyung is such a good character, that it would be easy for Lee Seol’s delivery to lean on the one-note side of things, making Yi Kyung feel more like a caricature than a real person. Instead, Lee Seol injects Yi Kyung’s reactions with enough hints of discouragement, that I could believe that Yi Kyung wasn’t simply born a superior human being; she was making the decision in every moment, to choose the better response. I found that to be quite key, and I found that I could embrace Yi Kyung as a character much more, because of this.
Here are some of my thoughts on Yi Kyung, during the course of my watch.
E2. I find it quite refreshing that our female lead is an ex-delinquent trying to make good. Well, she’s not a true delinquent in the sense of the word, since she ended up in detention for something that she did in self-defense, but I can believe that she went through a dark time in her teens and that that affected the way she saw the world and the people in it, and that that led her to bully those around her, as a misguided way of processing her emotions, and now that she’s trying to turn her life around, her past is coming up to bite her. I prefer that setup a lot more than if she were a typical Candy who got bullied for no reason other than her poor background. In this case, I feel like it’s more believable.
E2. I like that Yi Kyung’s got some steel to her. She has enough pride in her music and herself, to not want to settle for having everything swept under the carpet with some hush money. She may have a past that she’s less than proud of, but she doesn’t allow that to prevent her from working to live a better life now.
E5. Yi Kyung really has it tough.. Even after appearing on TV, with friends and strangers loving her performance, she gets quickly cut down by her mom (So Hee Jung), who rails at her for not living a quiet life. It’s like she’s living out a perpetual sentence for what she’s done in the past, and she can’t escape it, no matter how quiet she tries to live, or how far she tries to run. It’s soul-sucking stuff, and it’s a wonder that she still has the resilient, positive outlook that she keeps. She’s quite remarkable, really.
E5. Yi Kyung keeps her expectations for life very low, and that’s probably partly why she’s able to turn down all of Ha Rip’s offers so quickly. She’s decided that she can’t do music – and Mom’s incessant warnings surely play into that – and so Ha Rip’s offer probably seems to be from the realm of the impossible, to her eyes. It’s just not something she can consider.
E5. Ha Rip and Tae Kang both trying to tempt Yi Kyung – Ha Rip to get her to sign with him and prove she is a first-grade soul, and Tae Kang to prove that she isn’t a first-grade soul – is like watching something akin to the devil tempting Jesus in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. It just feels like it goes on and on, each time adjusted a little, for a new attempt. So far, Yi Kyung isn’t biting, and it feels to me like she feels she’s already taken an advance in life, by getting through her previous conviction, and thus she refuses to take any more that life has to offer.
E6. Yi Kyung really has a sweet and pure soul. Even when so much hate is directed at her, and even when people attack her on her way to her performance and injure her and break her new guitar, she doesn’t retaliate in anger. Perhaps she learned that retaliation can have very heavy consequences, because of her backstory, but I like that she focuses on picking herself back up and looking forward. It’s a little Candy-esque, yes, and sometimes I do wish that she would stand up for herself instead of take things lying down, but since the set-up is that she’s a first-grade soul, I wont quibble with it.
E13. Soulless Yi Kyung is hard to watch. She’s so cold and emotionless. I must say though, there’s something pretty badass about her, in that she now doesn’t give a rat’s ass what people think, and speaks the truth unconditionally.
Ha Rip & the devil together
The chance to see Jung Kyung Ho and Park Sung Woong share the screen again, was one of the big reasons I decided to tune in to this show. I’d loved them together in Life On Mars, and I loved them here too.
It tickles me that Jung Kyung Ho had been the first to be attached to this project, and that he’d been the one to suggest Park Sung Woong for the role of the devil. Eee! I love it.
It was an absolute treat to see these two together again, and they proved yet again, that they share an excellent, sparky chemistry. I thought Park Sung Woong provided an effortless gravitas to Jung Kyung Ho’s flailing ball of energy vibe, and it all balanced out really nicely, to my eyes.
Although there are more sobering, darker undercurrents between Ha Rip and Ryu / Tae Kang, Show doesn’t skimp on the opportunity for Park Sung Woong and Jung Kyung Ho to pitch their individually impeccable comic timings against each other, and we get lots of hilarity with these two characters. I enjoyed that a lot.
Here are some of my favorite funny moments, involving these two.
E2. It’s quite amusing that in all of Ha Rip’s desperate, grasping-at-straws negotiations with the devil over his contract, the thing that first piques the devil’s interest, is the promise to help him sing. Ha. Of course, it’s the additional soul that seals the extension deal, but I’m still amused at the irony that the devil, who has the power to raise Ha Rip from the dead, is tone deaf and can’t sing and has no power of his own to change that.
E4. I did chuckle a little at Tae Kang’s voice lesson where Ha Rip gets him to put a bucket over his head, and he proceeds to bellow everything off-key. Sometimes these two are like squabbling schoolboys. Hur.
E5. Ha Rip and Tae Kang bickering over Yi Kyung and her supposed first-grade soul, and whether the other party is making any progress, is quite amusing, thanks to the great chemistry between Jung Kyung Ho and Park Sung Woong. They seem like grade school classmates bickering over who gets the next turn at batting, it feels that juvenile.
Ha Rip’s connection with Yi Kyung
Ha Rip’s connection with Yi Kyung is quite spoilery, so I’ll just say here, that I found the overall handling of their relationship well done. I feel Show does a very solid job of teasing out and presenting the various layers and stages of their relationship, and also does a good job of resolving their issues by the end of our story.
Although Lee Seol is a relatively new actress, I felt that she held her own and matched Jung Kyung Ho quite nicely, in terms of screen presence. Quite impressive, I thought.
Here’s a more detailed look at their relationship, via my thoughts about this pair, during the course of my watch.
E2. The people who disdain Yi Kyung at the birthday party have an understandable reason for acting the way they do, because they only know the old Yi Kyung. And given this, I can also understand why Yi Kyung would feel that they’re justified in their actions, and allow them to treat her poorly and walk all over her. In this “justifiable” situation, with Ha Rip swooping in to rescue her, it feels extra precious; an extension of grace, so to speak.
E5. What a poignant flashback, when Show reveals that Yi Kyung had been friends with Seo Dong Cheon, and he’d protected her from her stepfather, and even sung his songs to her.
E7. Aw. Yi Kyung and Seo Dong Cheon had a pretty endearing relationship. That scene of them sitting together under the rafters, with the rain coming down, and him singing her a song he’d started write, while playing on his taped-up guitar, and her listening with rapt attention, is so charmingly down-to-earth.
E7. Ha Rip being so torn up over Yi Kyung and how he’s influenced and affected her life for the worse in the past, albeit inadvertently, shows that underneath all his self-centered vanity, he’s still a good person. He’s also torn up about trying to steal her soul to save his own, but he hasn’t made a different choice as yet. I think it’s smart of Show to make Yi Kyung someone that he cared about in the past. That adds to the weight of why he would hesitate to make her sell her soul.
E8. What a whammy it must be for Ha Rip, to realize that his impulsive decision to steal the money that his newfound son needed for surgery, led to Yi Kyung’s misfortunes, almost in their entirety. Because he stole the money and she protected him, she got hauled in and got a record. And because of that, her stepfather beat her up so badly that she tried to defend herself, which then got her the record that’s now staining her life. And, because the judge took both offenses into account, she was punished more severely than otherwise, and she’s now living in constant judgment because of it. What a mind-bender that must be, especially given that Ha Rip’s not evil by nature.
E10. Show’s going with the hyper-awareness between Yi Kyung and Ha Rip, and – sigh – even though I was adamantly against it last episode, I’m kinda-sorta eating it up this episode. Hyper-awareness is hard to turn down, and Drama knows it.
E10. There’s a connection between Ha Rip and Yi Kyung that feels vulnerable, raw, and soulful. In his emotional moments, Ha Rip’s been speaking almost without a filter, to Yi Kyung, and she doesn’t understand what he’s saying, but she feels his struggle and his regret, and instinctively reaches out to him. First, when he initially woke up from his fever, and then now, as he’s sitting on the curb in the rain. She genuinely wants to protect him from all his pain, even though she doesn’t understand it, and there’s something very pure about that.
Ha Rip’s growing connection with Luka [SPOILERS]
Once we have confirmation that Luka (Song Kang) is Seo Dong Cheon’s son, the relationship between Ha Rip and Luka takes on a poignant, heart-pinching sort of quality. While Luka thinks of Ha Rip as his hyung (since Ha Rip “confesses” to being Seo Dong Cheon’s son), Ha Rip’s emotional landscape when it comes to Luka, is much more plaintive and heart-rending.
In episode 10, the scene of Luka having a drink with Ha Rip, while Ha Rip says in voiceover that he’d once dreamt of having a drink with his son, is so poignant. For all his gruff bluster, Seo Dong Cheon really cares about his son, and he longs for him, now that he’s right there; so near, yet so far.
At the same time, Luka’s tears at the song that Ha Rip sang for him, because it was written by his dad, is just so heartbreaking. As much as Seo Dong Cheon longs for his son, Luka longs for his father too, so much. Augh.
And at the end of the episode, Ha Rip offering his own life in exchange for Luka’s is such a selfless, fatherly thing to do. His desperation to save Luka, at any price to himself, is just so affecting.
This arc hurt, but it hurt so good.
Tae Kang’s connection with Seo Young [SPOILERS]
At first, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the burgeoning loveline between Ryu / Tae Kang and Seo Young (Lee El), because while it was played for comedy, it also felt deeply unfair to Seo Young, since she was completely unaware that she was trying to romance a devil instead of a human.
However, I found myself coming around to the growing connection between them, and I even found it a little funny, when Tae Kang grows feelings like jealousy and attraction, and is completely befuddled by it all. On a more serious note, I also appreciated that by Show’s later episodes, Seo Young’s words and her own humanity, are the only things that get through to our jaded devil.
Even though this loveline never actually blossoms, I like the idea that Tae Kang and Seo Young each ended up learning important lessons from spending time the other.
Manager Kang’s arc [SPOILERS]
With Manager Kang (Yoon Kyung Ho) being somewhat of a supporting character in the background, I was surprised by how affecting his story was, when he got the narrative spotlight at around Show’s midpoint.
Before Show had explained his backstory, I had wondered a little bit about how he’d ended up serving the devil as his assistant, but the reality of it was so tragic. That he’d sold his soul primarily so that he could have a way of seeing his dead daughter once each month, is so heartbreaking. That’s the extent of his desperation. Augh.
His wife is trying so hard to tell him that their daughter’s been dead for 7 years, and he’s desperately denying it, holding onto the memory of their day together at the amusement park – which, as the camera pans away from the memory, turns out to be him skipping along by himself, his daughter not actually by his side. And he knows this, but the virtual experience of having her by his side, and in his arms, is enough for him, to want to sell his soul. How terribly sad.
In episode 12, Manager Kang having to goodbye to his daughter Woo Ram was heartbreaking to watch. This poor man, losing his daughter twice. But it’s his experience of losing his daughter again, that prompts him to tell Yi Kyung about Ha Rip’s deal with the devil.
Ultimately, I found Manager Kang’s death in episode 13 sad, even though he’s happy that he’s with his daughter now. I couldn’t help thinking what this will do to his wife, to lose both her daughter and her husband. Sadness.
Ra In’s obsession with Tae Kang [MINOR SPOILER]
I found acting starlet Ra In’s (Lee Yoo Young) obsession with winning Tae Kang’s heart, even if it means selling her soul to him, quite darkly funny.
It’s a little disturbing that she has so little regard for her own soul that she wouldn’t care about selling it, if it means that she can win Tae Kang’s affections, but Show plays this arc with a light touch, and Ra In isn’t ever actually in danger of losing her soul, so this ultimately served as a running gag, bringing some levity to Show’s more serious notes. I chuckled out loud more than once, watching Ra In’s ridiculous antics.
STUFF THAT WAS NEUTRAL
Song Kang as Luka
Personally, I felt fairly indifferent to Song Kang’s delivery of Luka. I mean, his delivery is alright, but I didn’t feel it was as strong as the performances from our other key cast members. That, and I wasn’t fond of the initial somewhat comic treatment of Luka as a character, and his tendency to spout things in Serbian, which didn’t sound at all convincing to my untrained ears.
However, because Luka eventually is portrayed as much more sympathetic, I found myself feeling sorry for Luka, who longs so much for the father that he never had the chance to meet.
..Which is how it all works out to neutral for me, in the end.
The handling of Show’s mythology
Like I mentioned earlier in this review, generally speaking, I was quite pleased that Show was able to answer many of the questions that I found myself asking about its mythology, in the course of my watch. However, there were a couple of things that did niggle at me, where I felt that Show’s mythology might have been a little unsound in spots, after all.
There are 2 main things that bothered me.
1. The devil clarifies in episode 7, that he doesn’t seek people out; it’s the desperate and frustrated that call his name, and he’s the one who saves them – as revenge. And then in episode 8, we see Seo Dong Cheon signing the soul contract, mainly to save his son, whom he didn’t even know was in danger.
This seemed dodgy to me. The devil had said that he doesn’t call people’s names but vice versa, but in this case, it doesn’t seem to me like Seo Dong Cheon had sought out the devil. Instead, it looks like he’s almost coerced into signing away his soul, because if he doesn’t, his son will die. That doesn’t seem very consistent, to me.
2. In episode 14, I found myself feeling confused about the deity billing Ha Rip for his soul, and on a technicality at that. I don’t even understand the technicality, since Ha Rip had sold his soul to the devil, not the deity. Why would the deity be the one billing him, now? And, come collection time, it ends up being Ryu doing the collecting. Show doesn’t explain how this works, and overall, this just seemed confusing and a little wonky, to me.
STUFF I LIKED LESS
Kim Hyung Mook as Lee Chung Ryeol
Chung Ryeol (Kim Hyung Mook) is not a likable character by any means, so the fact that I disliked him quite intensely during my watch, means that Show did a good job, heh.
Here are just a couple of unsavory highlights.
E8. Chung Ryeol can’t be trusted. He wasn’t trustworthy in the past, and he’s not trustworthy now. The minute Ha Rip says that he’s Seo Dong Cheon’s son and asks him to keep it a secret, he waltzes into the room and announces it to Seo Young, Yi Kyung, and Luka, and everyone’s minds are blown and they all start extrapolating what this all means, based on their individual knowledge of Seo Dong Cheon.
E10. Chung Ryeol holding the wedding money incident over Yi Kyung now, to try to get her to spill where Seo Dong Cheon is, is just awful. Ugh. Also, I hate that he hit her that day, at the police station. She was just a young girl, and there was no evidence that she was involved in the theft, and he’d been nasty, mean and violent towards a helpless schoolgirl. How awful.
Some stuff doesn’t add up for me, so well
Show is generally solid in its handling of its internal logic, but I have to admit, there were some things that I couldn’t quite make sense of. Here they are, for the record:
E11. I’m confused about why Mom had treated Yi Kyung with so much anger and animosity when Mom knew all along that Yi Kyung wasn’t the one who hit Stepdad (Jeong Gi Seop) with the ashtray. There was no hint at all, in the earlier episodes, that Mom felt any sympathy, compassion or gratitude towards Yi Kyung, even as she was scolding her. Why rail at her and tell her to live quietly so as not to interfere with her stepbrother’s success, when Mom knew all along, that Yi Kyung had been protecting her stepbrother all this time, by taking the blame for his actions? This was weirdly handled, to me.
E13. I don’t know. It’s hard to believe that Ha Rip didn’t know he had his soul back, when the devil gave it back to him. Yes, he’s all caught up in the moment, focusing only on Luka, but if Show is to be believed, his entire view of the world changes depending on whether or not he has his soul. Without it, he’s enveloped in darkness and he sees only the darkness of other people’s depravity. So how could he have possibly missed it, when the devil gave him his soul back, and his view changed? I’m not sure I fully buy this.
E14. Seo Dong Cheon’s song suddenly entrancing Ha Rip, Yi Kyung and Luka, and leading them places, seems random and strange. What is this, Pied Piper meets Hansel and Gretel meets the siren song?
E14. Manager Gong’s remarks before leaving earth are quite cryptic. They sound somewhat poetic, but I can’t make sense of the words themselves. “Forgetting and being forgotten are both terrifying. Why the deity chose this world as the greatest punishment, and why the devils are always tempted by this place, should be remembered.” Um. What?
Kang Ha’s connection with Dong Hee
Somewhere in Show’s mid-stretch, we see that Kang Ha and Dong Hee (Son Ji Hyun) have something of a special connection, which dates back to before our story even starts. I found the treatment of this arc rather random and patchy, to be honest.
We never quite get the full story, except to see that Kang Ha shows consistent concern for Dong Hee, and that they are friends. Ultimately, I didn’t feel like this arc was quite finished, by the time our final credits rolled, either. It almost feels like writer-nim had an idea for this pair, and then got distracted by other things along the way, and forgot to finish what they’d started.
Some of Show’s late-stretch developments
By Show’s last few episodes, it feels like a lot is happening, with Show introducing more new information than ever. I had mixed feelings about this.
It felt like everything was coming – well, more like rushing – to a head, with multiple events, encounters and tears, swirling towards a center, like a vortex of confusion and pain homing in on a single point: Ha Rip and his original deal with the devil.
On the upside, I liked that Show was putting a concerted effort into wrapping up its story. On the other hand, there were several plot points in this stretch that I didn’t enjoy so much.
E12. This was a harder episode to watch than average. Firstly, because it’s hard to see Ha Rip operating without his soul; he’s basically a colossal jerk without it, and we witness him being mean to basically everyone. But ok, I do get that this is quite important to our story.
But then secondly, Luka gets hit by a truck of doom, as the angelic side takes care of things to set things right. I find that doesn’t sit well with me. If the angel messenger was going to set things right, couldn’t he have taken Luka’s soul in a gentle manner? Why so violent? If it was necessary to take Luka’s life, a benign supreme being wouldn’t have sent a truck of doom, I think?
E13. This episode was hard to watch too.
First of all, Yi Kyung’s overwhelmed blurted out words at the scene of the accident, sound weirdly out of character. Instead of crying over why Luka is suffering so much – after all, he’s the one who’s just been mowed down by a truck of doom – she’s crying out about why she has to suffer so much, and what did she do, to deserve all this. That is really, really weird and I don’t buy it. I would think that just about anyone in Yi Kyung’s shoes would be too busy crying for Luka, who’s lying in a pool of blood right in front of her, to think about herself. This felt like a writing misstep, to me.
And then there’s the dual trucks of doom, in a single episode. I mean, c’mon, that’s a bit much, really.
The light saber-esque battle between the devil and the messengers also seemed a little too try-hard and copycat for my taste.
THEMES / IDEAS [SPOILERS]
Here are just a few themes and ideas that caught my attention, during my watch.
E6. I felt sorry for Yi Kyung this hour, because she’s finally giving herself permission to dream, by accepting Ha Rip’s offer of a contract, but everything seems to go wrong, and everyone seems to hate her. I’m annoyed that the devil has something to do with it, but it’s even more troubling that most of it is coming about on its own, thanks to the judgmental nature of human beings in general. The nastiness of netizens comes into play, and it’s a very sobering note because of all the celebrity suicides this year, fueled by netizen hate.
E6. The way Ha Rip wonders about whether he would have sold his soul, if he’d only known about Luka’s mom being a fan, or Yi Kyung admiring his music, earlier in life, is quite sobering. It makes me think about how many people are likely suffering from self-doubt or depression, who are probably giving up on their dreams, not because they aren’t any good, but because they never heard an encouraging word. Paired with the idea of netizen hate, this is a very somber thought indeed.
E11. The idea of the love of a father. Manager Gong broke protocol to protect his demon son, who really doesn’t appreciate it, and Seo Dong Cheon pleaded with the devil to take his life instead of his son Luka’s. Fathers really will go to great lengths to protect their children.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
I admit that I felt a little confused, because if a person without a soul cannot cry, what does it mean that Chung Ryeol and Yi Kyung both shed tears this episode? Is it because their souls were hovering nearby at the time?
Despite the questions, though, this is a poignant hour of things being set right, as much as possible: Ha Rip apologizing to Chung Ryeol for not acknowledging him in the past; Kyung Soo admitting to the truth, that he was the one who’d injured his dad and not Yi Kyung; Kang Ha giving the analysis reports from the past, to the protestors still seeking justice; Ha Rip saying his goodbyes to Luka and Luka’s mom; Tae Kang corrects the song credit on Liver and Gallbladder’s album to correctly reflect Seo Dong Cheon’s name; Chung Ryeol gets arrested for his part in the pharmaceutical case.
Ha Rip’s goodbye with Luka and his mom at the airport is quite heartbreaking; there are so many hidden feelings and unspoken words, and the goodbyes really do feel inadequate, as Ha Rip struggles to say what needs to be said for Song Dong Cheon. And then Ha Rip’s tears, as he realizes that he’s said his final goodbye to his son. Augh. That was heart-wrenching indeed.
It was good fun though, and a good spot of much-needed levity, seeing Chung Ryeol become a nobody when he got his youth back, then work so hard to get his old face back, only to get arrested, ha. His bad day really couldn’t get any worse, and I can’t help feeling rather satisfied by it, eep.
The growing friendliness of Tae Kang with Ha Rip, and Ha Rip’s reluctant engagement is quite bittersweet to watch. I love seeing Jung Kyung Ho and Park Sung Woong together, so the scenes of Tae Kang declaring them friends come across as quite endearing, but there’s also a dark pathos underscoring it all, because they both have limited time left, before one is obliterated and the other, soul-harvested. Sigh.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
To be honest, with the way things were going, I wasn’t sure that Show would manage to serve up a solid finale that would be satisfying to watch, and yet still be aligned with the mythology of its drama world. I figured that at most, Show would accomplish one of those things, but not both, since at the end of our penultimate episode, our key characters pretty much all seemed to be on a futile path of destruction, and hope was a faint glimmer, if at all.
I’m so pleased to report that Show managed to achieve both. Not only that, I even feel rather wistful to be saying goodbye to these characters. That’s really more than I imagined Show would accomplish, so I’m a happy camper indeed.
Show wraps things up pretty neatly for all our characters, and even supporting characters get a mention, so that we know what happens to each of them.
Ha Rip confesses to all allegations of plagiarism and all his assets go towards compensating those who’ve been hurt by him stealing their music, and the rest is donated towards medical research. We see him hiking in the desert, which is where Ryu finds him.
They banter-spar without missing a beat, but it isn’t long before Ryu reveals that he’s here to collect Ha Rip’s soul. Ryu holds out his hand for a final handshake, calling Ha Rip “friend,” and Ha Rip gruffly wishes him a good “getting lost” (ha), before taking Ryu’s hand, thereby finally paying the soul price of his contract.
Ryu is sentenced to the seventh pit of torture for his misdeeds, and the messenger informs him that he’s not being obliterated because his father had sacrificed his life in exchange for Ryu’s. Oof. That’s sad.
Ryu goes with the messengers willingly, ready to receive his punishment, and they leave with him, even as he sardonically remarks that he doesn’t believe that the deity loves him, as the messenger claims. After they depart, we see that Tae Kang’s body is left behind, and we see later, that his soul finds him again, and he makes a comeback acting in melos, where he claims his strength has always been.
Similarly, Yi Kyung’s soul eventually finds her, and she returns to her original, tenderhearted self. She retires from her singing career, saying that the lifestyle is too flashy for her, and promises her fans that her music will come to look for them, in the future.
Seo Young leaves Soul Entertainment together with Yi Kyung, and says that she will travel for a while, to figure out what she wants to do. In response to Tae Kang’s efforts to rekindle their relationship, she says that she’s learned that love doesn’t work when one party is begging the other, and that they should be content with their memories. Before she leaves, she looks up towards the heavens and wishes Ryu well, though she doesn’t know his name.
We see that Chung Ryeol’s soul manages to find him too, in prison, but in true impatient Chung Ryeol style, he swats it with a book instead of welcoming it, ha. We also get quick looks at Ra In and Shi Ho (Jung Won Young); Ra In’s on her way to Hollywood where even bad acting is now appreciated (hur), while Si Ho has found his calling leading trot songs among the elderly, who are a very appreciative audience.
Yi Kyung’s mother is released from prison and Yi Kyung goes to greet her with a hug, the two finally reconciled.
Seo Dong Cheon quietly takes over Manager Gong’s old cafe, and finds that his new landlady is Yi Kyung. Yi Kyung proposes that they go into partnership together, and we see them play for their cafe crowd, introducing themselves as Right Atrium and Left Ventricle (hur – though I do like the emphasis on the heart).
We also find out that after Ryu had left Ha Rip in the desert, he’d sent people to save Ha Rip, knowing that Ha Rip would be buried in the sandstorm. On top of that, Ryu had also sent along Ha Rip’s soul, as his final gift. Aw. Ryu really does think fondly of Ha Rip as a friend.
We learn, too, Seo Dong Cheon is only Seo Dong Cheon when he wants to be. When he misses Ha Rip, he becomes Ha Rip. He’d thought it was the devil’s mistake or the deity being cheeky, but as it turns out, it’s neither; it’s purely his will.
We hear Seo Dong Cheon in voiceover, saying that he will think of this as the devil’s final gift, that the devil had whispered to him to make a choice, and his choice, for his life, is to live as Seo Dong Cheon, as someone’s grade one soul.
Aw. What a fitting end for Ha Rip’s story, that he would finally come around to appreciate his life as Seo Dong Cheon, heretofore wretched enough for him to sell his soul to the devil, but now, healed by the memories that used to choke him. I love that in the end, both he and Yi Kyung give up the flashy lives they’d gained from selling their souls, to live a more quiet, subdued lifestyle, focusing their time and energies on making music from their hearts, which is the main thing that they’d both wanted, from the beginning. And now, they get to do exactly that, this time, together, and with a newfound appreciation for the intangible, precious things in life that money can’t buy: maturity, wisdom, and contentment.
While I wouldn’t wish anyone to ever feel like they ought to sell their souls to the devil, given all that’s happened, I can’t help feeling that the reluctant, unlikely friendship that Ryu and Seo Dong Cheon had, did bring about something good, in the end.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Occasionally feels uneven, but is overall a solid watch, filled with lashings of poignance, comedy and soul-searching.
FINAL GRADE: B+