THE SHORT VERDICT:
Show really is everything that many of us have come to love in kdrama. It’s gorgeous to look at, our actors are pretty darn capable all-around, our characters are mostly endearing, there’s amped-up, epic romance to be had between an OTP that shares solid, sparky chemistry, and, well, Hyun Bin is appealing in this, to a rather staggering degree. Flail. As a bonus, Show possesses a cheeky sense of humor around drama tropes, even as it revels in them. In addition, the glimpse into North Korean life feels fresh and novel as well, and is a major highlight.
On the downside, there’s a bit of drag in the mid-to-late episodes, which is compounded by rather heavy-handed narrative angst, and Show’s long episodes. That can feel a bit or a lot hard-going, depending on your appetite for angst.
Overall, though, Show does a great job bringing the feels, and is well worth the watch.
THE LONG VERDICT:
Funny story, you guys; I actually watched this drama twice, before writing this review. This is something I never do, basically. I watch a drama once, and then review it. The only rewatches I do for a review would be for older dramas like Goong and Coffee Prince, where I rewatch the drama in question (again, just once), in order to craft the review. So the fact that I watched this show twice before starting to write this review, is a first, for me.
Which begs the question, why did I feel the need to watch this show twice?
Basically, I wanted to make sure that I was being fair to Show. I’d started this show on a high note, early in Show’s run; it made me laugh, and I found it wonderfully slurpable, and rather cracky, even. I found Show ridiculous, fun, and entertaining, even as I happily ate up the feels that Show served up. And then real life got in the way, and I fell behind in my watch. Show also got pre-empted twice, thus adding to the lag.
When I managed to get back into some kind of regular rhythm with my watch, around Show’s middle-ish episodes, I was bemused to find that I didn’t seem to find this show as cracky as I’d had, at first. In fact, I found myself even dragging my feet, sometimes, in watching the next episode. In Show’s final stretch, though, I decided to watch the episodes as close to each other as possible, and to my surprise, I found that I enjoyed those few episodes more than I’d expected.
This made me wonder if the mid-show drag which I’d felt was really Show’s fault; maybe it was just the fact that I’d lost momentum? Maybe it was just me, and not Show’s fault at all?
I decided it would be unfair to declare that Show actually had any mid-run drag, without first verifying it, and so when I got to the end of my watch, I went right back to episode 1 and started all over again. This time, I made sure to keep up a good pace, and watched at least an episode a day, if not two.
The end result? Well, I still think Show suffers from some mid-run drag, but it’s honestly not as bad as I’d originally thought. So my lag in watch pace did contribute to the perceived drag. I’ll talk more about the mid-run drag later in this review.
For now, let me say that I don’t actually think this show is for everyone. A good benchmark, I think, is whether you enjoyed 2013’s You From Another Star (aka My Love From Another Star), also written by Park Ji Eun. Basically, if you loved one, it’s quite likely that you’d love the other, because both shows contain many similar ingredients, albeit served up in their own ways. Both shows also benefit from keeping your logical lens on a fairly blurry setting, and just letting the feels carry you.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s a collection of OST tracks which I found on YouTube, in case you’d like to enjoy the very pleasant OST while you read the review.
STUFF I LIKED
Show’s very pretty to look at
With high production values, thoughtful directing, careful framing, color palettes suited to each locale, and beautiful leads, Show adds up to a whole lotta Pretty indeed. Even though I thought the scenes in North Korea tended dark, it was clear that Show’s visuals as a whole, had been curated with very specific intentions in mind: to create a picturesque drama world that would be an immersive experience for the viewer.
In particular, I noticed that the color palette was carefully selected for each locale: the scenes in South Korea had bolder, more saturated colors; the scenes in North Korea leaned a lot more muted and washed out; the scenes in Switzerland were painted in beautiful bright Spring tones. On top of it all, Show employs savvy framing and camera angles to ensure that everything is presented with a solid layer of fairytale polish.
My eyes; they could not complain.
The depiction of North Korea
The glimpse that Show gives us, of life in North Korea, is one of my personal highlights of my watch.
Show benefits from having a well-informed, well-positioned advisor who had himself defected from North Korea (you can read more about that here), and comments from other defectors from North Korea (example here) indicate that what we see is largely accurate, although Show obviously takes some artistic liberties.
Kudos to Show for somehow managing to execute this on a scale that makes onscreen North Korea feel real. I’m sure some of it was achieved through the use of green screens and CGI, but it’s also obvious that some elaborate sets were constructed to achieve the end result that we enjoy on our screen. Mad props to Show for managing to give us such a detailed peek into life in North Korea, which has always been largely kept hidden and mysterious.
I appreciate that Show takes pains to show us that average North Korean citizens are just an ordinary folks trying to live their lives and take care of their families. It feels so alien and strange, and yet so everyday and relatable. I found it all very intriguing and fascinating, and thoroughly absorbing.
[MINOR SPOILER] The fact that Show manages to squeeze in PPL even in North Korea, via the contraband that the villagers consume, amused me quite a bit. [END SPOILER]
I feel like even if you’re not super into the Big Romance which is Show’s main narrative arc, that the vicarious North Korean experience, in and of itself, is worth a look.
The cheeky treatment of tropes
One thing that Show does really well, is poke fun at drama tropes as a whole, and bring the funny doing that, while serving up drama tropes in its own story, and bringing the feels with those. For new drama viewers, this is quite a special two-way indoctrination. Like, first, let me show you what’s so cliched about drama tropes, and oh, by the way, this is why you’ll love ’em so much: Feeelzzz. Ha.
Show’s particularly good at this. Even though my brain recognized various plot developments as rather cliched and tropey, my heart happily inhaled it all, and hearts rapidly grew in my eyes.
[SPOILER] In episode 4, the way Jung Hyuk and Se Ri (Hyun Bin and Son Ye Jin) made out to create a cover story for being out at sea was amusing, and the way Jung Hyuk grabbed Se Ri and confidently leaped off the cliff, trusting in her paragliding equipment to carry the both of them, was swoony in effect, even as my brain protested the ease with which Jung Hyuk held onto Se Ri, in the face of gravity and everything. [END SPOILER]
At its best, Show manages to be ridiculous yet swoony at the same time. At its best, there’s something easy and comforting about watching this show, even as it manages to feel fresh, while still using tropes within its story.
Familiar, yet fresh. That’s a pretty rare combination, and kudos to Show for managing to hit that pitch perfect note, so much of the time.
Hyun Bin as Jung Hyuk
Listen. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is the most melty I’ve seen Hyun Bin, ever.
I mean, I already had reasonably well-informed Hyun Bin-appreciating eyes before coming to this show, but I’m still happily blown away, by just how ridiculously attractive Hyun Bin is in this, as our leading man Jung Hyuk.
I wasn’t feeling his appeal so much in 2018’s Memories Of The Alhambra, thanks to the way his character was written, but here, as Jung Hyuk, he’s really very swoony indeed. Can’t lie; I find him even more swoony in this show, than when I first had hearts in my eyes for him, while watching 2011’s Secret Garden, where I thought he was very handsome indeed.
I seriously luff Hyun Bin as Jung Hyuk, and here’s why.
First of all, the visuals are gorgeous and on-point. Hyun Bin definitely beefed up for the role, and his broad-shouldered, solid build, combined with his height, and his chiseled good looks is quite a heady combination indeed. Plus, Hyun Bin definitely looks extra handsome in military togs.
Second of all, I love the character of Jung Hyuk. Immediately, you can see that there’s a stiffness about him, but there’s a softness as well. That marshmallow within the gruff vibe that Jung Hyuk’s got going on, melts my heart, and my knees, in increasing degrees.
Third of all, not only does the stoic-bemused vibe of the North Korean soldier suit Hyun Bin well, he brings Jung Hyuk to life in detailed, three-dimensional glory. From the small micro-expressions to the larger emotions, Hyun Bin delivers them all in a manner that feels flawless and organic. He literally made Jung Hyuk come to life, for me, and I loved all of it.
Add on the intent gaze, as he tries to make sense of the strange South Korean woman who’s landed abruptly in his world, and his bemused yet thoughtful efforts to cater to her needs, and it’s just one very melty package indeed. Swoon.
E2. Jung Hyuk borrowing an elite military car, and rushing back to Se Ri to save her, is swoony stuff, even though I know that he needs to protect himself and his men too. It’s just, she’s alone and scared and cornered, and he swoops in to defend her and save her, in his stoic, no-nonsense, soldiery way. Flail.
E2. The fact that Jung Hyuk not only put up with Se Ri’s incessant calls about her first world problems and needs, but remembered them and went to the market to buy everything she’d asked for, and even thought to include antiseptic lotion for the scrape on her knee, makes him ridiculously attractive. How patient and sweet is he?! And Se Ri notices it too, musing out loud that Jung Hyuk might look indifferent, but is kind of sweet. I approve the acknowledgment, because he really is so sweet to do this.
E3. The moments that hit me the hardest this episode, are the times when Jung Hyuk is shown thinking about his piano past. He gets this wistful look in his eyes that speaks volumes, even though he doesn’t say anything. The first time is when he looks at his piano-related stuff in his bookshelf, as Se Ri talks about having seen them. And the second time, which I found even more affecting, is when he’s squatting in front of his new tomato plant, trying to think of 10 nice things to say to it, as instructed by Se Ri, and he finally lands on “piano.” Rocking back and forth on his haunches, there’s a childlike quality about him; his gaze flickers and there’s a plaintiveness about his gaze, as he just falls silent, his last word hanging in the air. Augh. That makes me feel like he misses his old life a lot, that his true passion is for piano, and he’s here in the military purely to investigate his hyung’s death, and there’s so much unsaid and so much emotion held back, that words just escape him.
E3. Jung Hyuk’s a good man. When Se Ri gathers food and blankets from his house for the orphan boy who tried to steal Jung Hyuk’s uniform off the line, Pyo Chi Soo (Yang Kyung Won) protests loudly about how she’s being scammed, but Jung Hyuk treats the boy kindly. Not only does he allow Se Ri to give away the items she’s gathered from his house without first asking him, he instructs the boy to wash his hands and face before eating, so that he won’t get sick. Jung Hyuk is so warm and so kind, really. I can totally understand why Se Ri would look at him with hearts gathering in her eyes.
E3. Aw, that Jung Hyuk decides to go on the boat with Se Ri because he can see she’s nervous and anxious. Again, he’s a good man.
E5. Props to Jung Hyuk for coming clean about his engagement to Se Ri, even though his heart is clearly not in the engagement. He’s given his word to marry Dan (Seo Ji Hye), and that’s all that matters. He’s a man of principle, and I admire him for that.
E6. That scene in the bar, when a tipsy Se Ri mumbles that she’s troubled about leaving because she likes (it/him – the object isn’t specified), I find Jung Hyuk’s expression such a perfect response. His gaze flickers just a little, and his expression doesn’t change, but it’s clear that the implications and possibilities are troubling him too. Hyun Bin has such fine control of his micro-expressions; I am suitably impressed.
E9. That moment when Jung Hyuk tries to call Se Ri back, and gets the generic phone recording saying the number is not available, the Look on his face is nothing short of arresting. There’s shock, fear, horror, grief, and hope, all battling one another on the inside, and that complicated mix of emotions is written all over his face, frozen in time as he stands stunned, fighting to hold back the tears. Really good.
E9. Jung Hyuk is very smart and very shrewd. It doesn’t take him long to figure out that Dan was involved in Se Ri’s disappearance, and he quickly deduces that it was his father (Jun Gook Hwan) that actually abducted Se Ri. And he’s also able to work effectively with what he’s got; he knows that his father will not deign to get him out of prison, but that if the word gets out that he’s the General’s son, that others would be willing to get him out, out of fear for his father. I do enjoy a smart hero.
E11. Jung Hyuk trying to hide his pleased reaction at the adoring comments from netizens reacting to his handsome doorman manner, is so cute. There’s something so childlike and gleeful about him, in this scene, even as he retains his very handsome demeanor. Also. The dimples make their arguably most perfect appearance here, too.
E11. I must admit that Jung Hyuk is an effective, lethal fighting machine. I love me a leading man who has fight skillz and uses them to sharp effect. It’s even more swoony when it’s driven by a heart that’s devoted to protecting the woman he loves. Flail.
E14. I have a distinct weakness for badass heroes, so when Jung Hyuk functions in full bodyguard mode and swiftly takes down the guards that Se Hyung (Park Hyung Soo) tries to sic on him, and then effortlessly twists Se Hyung’s arm, effectively cornering him, I swoon. And he does it all without missing a beat or even raising an eyebrow. Hearts in eyes for days. Moar, please.
Son Ye Jin as Se Ri
Although I generally feel indifferent towards Son Ye Jin, and had ended up hating Something in the Rain, which had then increased my meh feelings towards her, I am pleased to report that I find her surprisingly likable in this.
Se Ri is written to be a bundle of contradictions. On the one hand, she can be extremely sharp and quick on the uptake, and on the other hand, she can seem quite ditzy and lacking in common sense. At the same time, sometimes she is cold and aloof, and at other times, she’s warm and generous. On paper, that’s enough to give anyone drama whiplash, but somehow, in Son Ye Jin’s hands, it actually works.
Instead of finding Se Ri annoying and entitled, I found her quite charming and rather endearing, even while I rolled my eyes at some of her more featherbrained moments.
To me, I think Son Ye Jin’s biggest challenge was to make Se Ri likable, despite her behavior being written as rather illogical and off the wall, at times. To that end, I would say that Son Ye Jin was very effective in achieving that goal. As unbelievable as I sometimes found Se Ri’s behavior, I somehow managed to believe that she was quite real.
Also, for the record, I thought Son Ye Jin did a fantastic job, particularly of Se Ri’s more emotional, difficult scenes. An all-around excellent performance, I say.
E1. Se Ri might show her estranged chaebol family a cold, jaded side, but what we see more, is her cute side. Her exasperation over the walkie, at being stranded is cute enough to make the straitlaced Jung Hyuk put away his weapon and smile, and I have to say that even I am somewhat charmed.
E2. Se Ri is really quick-thinking and shrewd, for all her princessy needs and spurts of whining. I mean, she’s able to outsmart and outtalk the soldiers, so that they can’t help but see themselves as being on the same boat with her. That’s pretty impressive.
E3. The ahjummas try to intimidate Se Ri into participating in their kimjang gathering, but trust Se Ri to wriggle out of it by claiming not to like kimchi, without batting an eyelash. Ha.
E3. I gotta say, Se Ri can be really quick on the uptake. Just moments after Jung Hyuk explains what Division 11 is about, Se Ri fields the ahjumma’s questions on it with a confident aloofness. I was pretty impressed by this.
E6. Se Ri might be vain and self-indulgent, but her spurts of honesty come at just the right time. When she’s saying goodbye to Jung Hyuk, she tells him that she’ll miss him, and will think of him often, even though she believes the opposite is true for him. That’s so candid of her, and I know Jung Hyuk needed and wanted to hear that, from her.
E7. Sometimes Se Ri’s shrewd and sharp, like when she adapted to the Division 11 ruse and fell right into step. And then sometimes, you gotta wonder if she’s ditzy or just plain blind, like when she sews a heart-shaped patch onto Jung Hyuk’s uniform in the name of mending it. Um. Who in their right minds would think that was a good idea?
E9. It’s a running gag that Se Ri thinks she’s so right about everything, and keeps making the wrong deductions, first about whose father had kidnapped her, and then about why the walk to the border takes such a long time. I’ve come to accept that this is part of her charm, though, that she might be a super successful CEO, but in some ways, she can be a little dim, and overconfident of herself.
E9. It’s a little cliched that Se Ri would win over at least one of Jung Hyuk’s parents while being held captive, but it’s well executed, and feels believable in the context of our story. Jung Hyuk’s mom (Jung Ae Ri) has always come across as being genuinely concerned for her son’s emotional wellbeing, so I buy that she would soften towards Se Ri, once she realized that her son was treating Se Ri with care and warmth.
E10. After watching Se Ri in North Korea for almost the entirety of our story, it’s rather startling to see her put her boss shoes back on and strut through life with sass and confidence. She’d taken off all of those trappings in North Korea, and shown us the more vulnerable real her, and I’d gotten used to that. It’s a little shocking, really, to remember again, that she’s quite the badass on her home ground, and a force to be reckoned with.
Seo Ji Hye as Dan
To be honest, this is the first time I’ve noticed Seo Ji Hye on my screen, even though I’ve seen several of the dramas listed on her filmography, like My ID is Gangnam Beauty, Jealousy Incarnate and 49 Days. For the record, I think Seo Ji Hye did an excellent job of delivering the character of Seo Dan, and I’m making a mental note to keep an eye on her future projects.
As a character, Dan doesn’t get a huge amount of screen time and attention, because as our story’s second female lead, her role is mainly to pine after Jung Hyuk. However, to Seo Ji Hye’s credit, Dan comes across as immediately quite interesting as a character, and upon her introduction in episode 3, I was quickly intrigued to learn more about her. Seo Ji Hye imbues Dan with a regal sort of air which I really liked, and yet, Dan’s inner insecurities and vulnerabilities are easy to spot too. Very nicely done, I thought.
Additionally, to Show’s credit, Dan does come into her own more than the average second female lead, in the overall scheme of things. I did feel like Dan’s arc could have been handled a little differently, particularly towards the end of our story, but I’ll touch on that later.
Kim Jung Hyuk as Seung Joon
I have to admit that Seung Joon as a character was a slow burn, for me. I started off feeling a little bemused by him, but ended the show with a significant soft spot for him. Kudos to writer-nim for fleshing him out and bringing out his more noble qualities, and kudos to Kim Jung Hyun for a very solid performance, overall.
To be honest, in the first place, I found it felt slightly bizarre to see Kim Jung Hyun in this show as an adult, because it wasn’t so long ago that I saw him as a student, in School 2017. And yet, here he is, playing a 31-year-old. Which is his actual age. Woah. That took some getting used to, I gotta admit.
I don’t know if this is all in my imagination, but I actually feel like perhaps Kim Jung Hyun himself took some time to get used to his character Seung Joon too, because there’s an occasion in episode 3 where he legit looks like he’s trying not to laugh (more on that in the spoiler section). By Show’s later episodes, though, I felt like the character of Seung Joon sat much more comfortably on Kim Jung Hyun, where his delivery of the character felt noticeably more nuanced and natural.
E3. On my first viewing of the show, at this point, I’d felt completely indifferent towards Seung Joon. To my eyes, he seemed completely vain and self-absorbed and rather whiny, to boot. For someone who got his money through dishonest means, it sure seemed like he was full of himself.
However, on my second viewing, after having accumulated affection for Seung Joon, I find him a lot more likable even in these early episodes. He’s all bark with no bite. He tries to talk big and act big around his North Korean agent / manager, but the moment the agent / manager pushes back, Seung Joon sheepishly backs down. The sheepish is subtle, but now that I know to look for it, I definitely see it, and that makes a lot of difference.
Also, I swear, it seemed like Kim Jung Hyun was legit trying not to laugh while his character whined about the lack of windshield wipers on the car during the storm. To me, his eyes looked extra bright, as if he was possibly about to explode from holding in the laughs, heh.
E4. Seung Joon is so reckless and keeps shooting off his mouth. I feel like it’s just a matter of time that he gets into trouble. I want to know why he’s like this. He seems to have no respect for the system that’s agreed to accommodate him, and he doesn’t seem to care if the people themselves get into big trouble for the deal he’s made with them. I mean, why else would he keep mouthing off, and threatening his chaperone not to nag at him?
E7. I’m beginning to find Seung Joon more interesting, finally. The broker guy got it right, Seung Joon does seem to be a conman who wants to do good. He’s kind to Dan, and also, he seems genuinely concerned for Se Ri’s safety. On the other hand, the way he’s talking Se Ri into staying with him at the end of the episode does come across as rather creepy.
E10. Ha. Seung Joon turning out to be the one who helped Se Ri and Jung Hyuk leave his family home to get to the meeting point, is quite amusing. I do appreciate that Show went back and explained how they managed to leave the house. And I like seeing more evidence that Seung Joon is good at heart.
E12. Hrm. So now we find out that Seung Joon is actually seeking revenge on Se Ri’s family, because his father was conned because of them? I.. isn’t this kind of late, and rather random? It’s not a small deal, even though Show drops it as a small detail, and I feel like this is very much underplayed. Seung Joon never struck me as a man out for vengeance / justice, even on my second watch.
The Puppy Boys
Gosh, you guys, I was not prepared for how much I would love this bunch of Puppies. They are just the cutest, most adorkable, endearing bunch. <3
From the very beginning, Show makes each of them different and distinct, so that each of them has a quirk that makes it easy to identify him by: Ju Meok (Yoo Soo Bin) is our resident Hallyu fan, and is the group’s interpreter for all things related to the South; Pyo Chi Soo is the suspicious, sardonic one; Kwang Bum (Lee Shin Young) is the handsome one; Eun Dong (Tang Joon Sang) is the innocent baby of the group who needs the most care and guidance.
I loved watching these boys together; there’s so much innocent, earnest childlikeness about them, even though they’re supposed to be Special Forces soldiers. Definitely a big highlight of my watch. <3
E2. Lol at how Ju Meok “learns” all these things about South Korea from his drama obsession. How familiar and relatable! And how silly and hilarious, that he believes that South Koreans get amnesia a great deal, ha! And then how endearing, when he keeps talking to Se Ri to find out what happened to Dae Gil at the end of Chuno.
E3. Ju Meok’s repeated insights into South Korea via his drama watching experience is such a hoot, with him assuring everyone that people kiss to avert crisis, and fall in love after spending a night together. Lol. Yes, the fake couple really does always fall in love. Hur. And it’s even funnier because Show is not just poking fun at the trope, but doing a nudge-nudge-wink-wink thing with us, coz Jung Hyuk and Se Ri are totally going to fall in lurve, just like Ju Meok says.
E10. The Puppies coming over to South Korea and marveling at the different types of instant ramyun in the convenience store is cute, and their awe at the existence of instant rice is adorkable.
E11. The Puppies trying to blend into South Korea and failing epically is quite amusing, while still serving as a poignant highlight of the differences between the North and the South. It was cute, but also, so bittersweet, to hear the boys sighing in envy at the fact that the lights stay on at night, in South Korea, especially Man Bok’s (Kim Young Min) wistful sigh that his son would be able to do his homework so well, if the lights stayed on at home like this. Oof.
E13. My favorite little arc this episode, is Ju Meok getting to meet Choi Ji Woo. He’s so adorably shy, dorky and earnest, and she’s so lovely, understanding and gentle. Ju Meok explodes with extra puppy appeal, with his I’m-so-happy-shocked-I’m-gonna-cry face, and his earnest-desperate reciting of her famous lines from his favorite drama Stairway to Heaven. She is so gracious to say the lines with him too, and his I-need-to-bury-my-face-now reaction, pulling his beanie down over his eyes, is just the cutest, most innocent, childlike thing. How is this man in Special Forces?
E14. The way the boys listen in on everything going on in Se Ri’s hospital room, with edge-of-their-seats suspense, wonder, discovery and, well, addiction, is just like how drama fans follow their favorite crack dramas. It’s completely hilarious, while being oddly wholesome. I loves it. <3
The Village Ahjummas
Kinda like with the Puppy Boys, I was quite shocked by how much I loved the Village Ahjummas, by the time I reached the end of my watch.
At first, the ahjummas seem mostly like comic and narrative devices, with their inquisitive, gossipy ways, and their giant collective crush on Jung Hyuk – and what effective devices they made, too! – but by Show’s second half, their good nature and good hearts are clear to see, and I couldn’t help but grow fond of them all. Special shout-out to Wol Suk (Kim Sun Young) for her uninhibited drunken ways, heh.
Here are just two of my favorite moments involving the ahjummas. Not to worry though, I’ll be talking about them some more, later in the review.
E12. The moment that I found most touching this episode, is when the village ahjummas each risked their safety, to bring Young Ae (Kim Jung Nan) food and supplies, even though they’ve been warned that it’s best to keep a distance. The fact that they each take it upon themselves to bring something, out of care and concern for Young Ae, despite the potential danger to themselves, speaks of so much sisterhood and solidarity. I teared up alongside too, when Young Ae cried at the sweet and selfless gesture.
E13. Pfft. The village ahjummas walking in on a shirtless, glistening Seung Joon is quite hilarious. Their eyes are as big as saucers and they literally look like they have stars in their eyes, ha. They’re such fangirls, seriously. I love it.
I really felt for Man Bok as a character, and I’m honestly deeply impressed by Kim Young Min, who plays Man Bok.
The more I saw of Kim Young Min as Man Bok, the more I marveled. I mean, the last time I saw Kim Young Min, he was playing a snooty chaebol jerk in My Mister, complete with sharp suits and smug swagger. And here, he’s a fidgety, nervous mouse of a wiretapper. His entire posture is different, and the entire air about him is a stark contrast to his swaggery chaebol days. He literally comes across as a completely different person, and I’m suitably impressed.
I thought that Man Bok’s arc, while full of heartbreak and angst, was well-handled. At no point in my watch did I feel like Show was taking this into cheesy or OTT territory. In fact, I thought the angst was well-balanced with humor and heart.
In general, I felt sorry for Man Bok, who’s under Major Cho’s (Oh Man Suk) thumb but seems wracked by guilt over his involvement in Jung Hyuk’s brother’s death. He feels even more guilty and torn, when he realizes that Major Cho wants him to wiretap Jung Hyuk as well, but complies because he has to.
Man Bok eavesdropping on the goings-on in Jung Hyuk’s house, and getting super confused, and also, getting super invested, is very amusing. It’s almost like he’s listening to some kind of radio drama, like the way we watch our dramas, ha. This running gag made me giggle quite a bit.
For example, in episode 3, Se Ri’s conversation with Hallyu lover Ju Meok and his obsession with Stairway to Heaven is hilariously misunderstood as some kind of plot where Se Ri claims not to have killed someone, and Jung Hyuk’s 10 nice words to his tomato plant is interpreted as some kind of secret code. Tee hee.
On the other hand, I found it gratifying to watch, as we see Man Bok grow fond of Jung Hyuk, and more determined to set things right. It’s basically an internal battle between love, fear and conscience, for Man Bok, and every time Man Bok too a little step to protect Jung Hyuk and Se Ri, I cheered on the inside.
I was so proud of him in episode 13, when we learn that he finally makes a decision to stand up to Major Cho’s threats, even though Major Cho claims to hold Man Bok’s son’s life hostage. I was very pleased to see that despite it all, Man Bok wants to fight back, and that he trusts the other puppies enough, to tell them the truth. Yes.
And then I really love the fact that Man Bok bugged Se Ri’s hospital room, in episode 14. HA. Talk about turning your shortcoming into your strength. Once the Puppies realize he’s bugged her room, they’re all hugging him and thanking him, which must so trippy for him, since he’s always felt ashamed for bugging and listening in on people, and had been ostracized and bullied for it too. I love it. <3
For the small amount of screen time that Dan’s mom and uncle (Jang Hye Jin and Park Myung Hoon) have, they sure make a big splash. They’re so dramatic, theatrical and hammy, that they basically steal every scene they’re in. Even better if they’re in a scene together, facing off of each other.
In particular, I loved watching Dan’s mom. Her giant pouf of hair, her bold red lips, her random garbled English, and her mega amounts of vain swag are just so iconic. She basically deserves her own show.
Im Chul Soo as Park Soo Chan
Soo Chan is a pretty minor character, but I just wanted to give him a shout-out because I very much enjoyed Im Chul Soo’s elastic expressions. His sad faces were always extra sad, and his smiles, extra wide. I just liked having him on my screen.
Jung Hyuk and Se Ri
The OTP connection really is Show’s Main Event, and I’m happy to say that by and large, this OTP really worked for me.
First of all, Hyun Bin and Son Ye Jin share a chemistry that I find believable, natural and sparky. It helps that both actors deliver their roles so convincingly, that I could believe that Jung Hyuk and Se Ri really meant everything they said to each other.
Secondly, even though I felt Show was very heavy-handed with the Big Fate between our OTP (more thoughts on that later), I have to credit Show with the fact that I can believe how Se Ri and Jung Hyuk would fall for each other. In many dramas, we’re expected to just believe that the OTP is in love. But here, I can actually see and feel them falling for each other in degrees. I love that through it all, Jung Hyuk and Se Ri actually have meaningful conversations that deepen their mutual understanding. I find their growing affection for and connection with each other completely believable and organic, and that made it easy for me to root for them to find happiness with each other.
I love the idea that they go from strangers who have no business with each other, to people who truly understand each other, and care for each other. And I am very pleased that we get to witness that journey as it unfolds. There might be a bunch of things that I found hard to believe in Show’s drama world (more on that later), but the growing connection between our OTP was not one of them.
E1. Even though Se Ri and Jung Hyuk are on opposite sides, it’s nice to see that they don’t mean each other any harm. Se Ri leaves him slightly stranded for her own safety, but makes sure to put his walkie in a place where it’ll be carried to him by the water current in due time. And he gives instructions for her to be captured but not shot.
E2. That moment, when Se Ri’s in the dark during the power outage, and she’s got a vase raised over her head to hit any potential intruder, and a single tear escapes her eye in the midst of her terror, as she sees that it’s Jung Hyuk, is really well done. Kudos to Son Ye Jin for an excellent portrayal; I feel like that was a difficult scene to pull off in that degree of detail, and she does it beautifully.
I can also believe that that would unlock the floodgates and that it would give rise to a moment of vulnerability, where Jung Hyuk would get to see her true, very scared and worried state. The way Jung Hyuk responds to Se Ri’s blubbered statement about how she can’t believe she’s crying in front of a stranger, by snuffing out the candle so that he can’t actually see her, is so gruffly sweet and thoughtful.
E3. I do love the short conversation that Se Ri and Jung Hyuk have on the boat, when they think they won’t see each other again. They sound so at ease with each other, and even tell each other their names and where their family clans are from, and chuckle at how her family clan originated in North Korea, and his, from South Korea. There’s a friendly solidarity here that I like.
E4. It amuses me that both Se Ri and Jung Hyuk separately each take pleasure at news that the other is concerned for them. Se Ri gets all shy and pleased when she hears that Jung Hyuk told the boys to stay with her and guard her while he isn’t there, and hilariously, Jung Hyuk gets just the same pleased-bashful way, when he hears that Se Ri wants to help him receive the Preferential Star award and be promoted. Cute.
E4. It’s so dorky that Jung Hyuk rides past Head Ahjumma’s house several times, until he bumps into Se Ri coming out, and it’s just funny, that Se Ri immediately pinpoints that he must’ve been waiting for her. Ha. What a letdown, after all the trouble he went to, to make it look accidental.
E4. The way Jung Hyuk looks at Se Ri when he thinks she isn’t looking, is starting to get seriously melty. He’s so focused on her, and the look in his eyes is just so warm and appreciative, even as amusement flickers in his gaze. Guh.
E4. Jung Hyuk sure goes to a lot of trouble to meet the requests of the demanding South Korean woman. I mean, he even roasts coffee beans to make her coffee in the morning, and then looks stifled-pleased when she slurps it up appreciatively. How endearing and sweet is he?
E4. Jung Hyuk’s immediate concern when he hears that Se Ri got separated from the ahjummas at the market, and his creative thinking, in getting a candle, and his thoughtfulness, in making it a scented candle like what she’d asked for, is just all kinds of melty. If I were freaked out and lost in the dark in Se Ri’s shoes, I can only imagine the overwhelming relief I’d feel, to suddenly see a light in the distance, and have that light illuminate a face that I’d come to trust. Augh. The tears in Se Ri’s eyes feel completely warranted, and my heart surges a little, that Jung Hyuk’s eyes are sheening a little with tears too. Aw. He’s relieved that he’s found her and she’s safe.
Jung Hyuk being Se Ri’s light in the darkness, coming for her, and saving her, when she thought she was completely lost, must have inched her a little more, towards falling for him. Same for the other sweet and thoughtful things he’s done, like roast coffee beans to make her fresh coffee in the morning, even though he has to go to quite a bit of trouble to even get the coffee beans.
And for all the trouble she gives him, Se Ri is appreciative of Jung Hyuk’s kindness, and tells him so. Plus, it’s clear that he finds her quite endearing, for all her Picky Princess ways, and even I have to agree that despite Se Ri’s tendency to come across as fussy and vain, that that part of her consistently fades away quite quickly, to reveal a more grateful, carefree side. And because I find her likable in spite of her ridiculous rich ways, I find it easy to believe that Jung Hyuk would like her too.
E5. Se Ri and Jung Hyuk denying their feelings for each other, to each other as well as to themselves, even as they each get jealous – she of Jung Hyuk’s interactions with Dan, and he of her interactions with Seung Joon – is quite amusing. Jung Hyuk got all petulant and grumpy, when Se Ri gave finger hearts to the other boys as well, which is the cutest thing. And Se Ri, who’s sworn that she will never wait for anyone, ends up sitting up all night, drinking herself into a stupor, because Jung Hyuk isn’t returning home like he said he would. D’aw.
E5. It’s so clear that they have feelings for each other, and there’s a distinct sense of wistfulness that comes up every time either of them mentions their impending goodbye.
E5. Jung Hyuk going to so much trouble to find Se Ri a way to go home, at such high risk to himself, which he stoically denies when Se Ri asks him about it, is just so selfless and sacrificial. He knows that she badly wants to go back, and so he goes ahead and does this, putting himself at risk, just so that he can grant her wish. Augh. My heart hurts.
E5. Jung Hyuk really is the sweetest. During the power outage-induced overnight picnic in the middle of nowhere, he buys Se Ri just about anything she asks for, except for warm water to wash her face with, heh. But otherwise, he gets firewood, blankets, corn and potatoes, so that she will be warm and not cold, fed and not hungry. I also really enjoy the philosophical conversation they have, about whether life brings disappointment, and whether a wrong train can bring you to the right destination. Clearly, Se Ri got on a wrong train which landed her in North Korea, but since it also landed her right in front of a very sweet, thoughtful and melty Captain Ri who would go to great lengths to help and protect her, it looks like she’s already at the right destination.
I like that Se Ri shows a genuine concern for Jung Hyuk’s future. First, when she asks on the train, whether anything bad will happen to him once she disappears as planned. A more selfish person wouldn’t care, because it’d all be stuff they’d left behind, but Se Ri cares. And second, when she tells him that he’s a good person, and that she hopes that he will be happy, and reach the right destination, even after she leaves. She genuinely wishes him well, and that feels quite pure, which I like.
E5. I love the way Jung Hyuk steals glances at Se Ri. His facial expression doesn’t change a great deal, but there’s a twinkle of amusement and a touch of appreciation in his gaze, which I dig.
E6. Another thing I like about this OTP, is that even though one of Jung Hyuk’s earlier standing rules was that Se Ri would be banned from talking to him and the puppy crew, they talk, and often, about important, deeply personal things. In this way, I can also believe that their connection would grow deep, in a relatively short period of time.
E6. It occurs to me that Se Ri and Jung Hyuk are similar yet different, in their family experiences and outlooks. On the surface, they both are expected to marry someone of their family’s choosing. Jung Hyuk is engaged to Dan, and Se Ri was supposed to have married Seung Joon. But, while Se Ri says that she and her brothers never experienced any kind of siblinghood, Jung Hyuk and his brother (cameo by Ha Suk Jin) are shown to have a deeply loving relationship.
It’s ironic, that the siblings with the stronger, warmer relationship is the pair from North Korea, which is commonly viewed as the colder, harsher Korea. So when Se Ri muses that her brothers must be happy to think that she’s dead, Jung Hyuk corrects her – and how painfully paradoxical, that he’s actually lost his brother, and was heartbroken for it. When Jung Hyuk quietly says that Se Ri’s brothers must be waiting for her to return, I feel so sad for him, because it feels like in his heart, that’s what he would hope for the most, that his brother would – could – return.
E6. Jung Hyuk goes to a lot of trouble to ensure Se Ri’s safety, and it’s so loyal and gallant of him. Even though it’s Se Ri who christens him her bodyguard, he takes the role seriously and even gets shot while protecting her. Oof. I’m sure Se Ri won’t be able to leave him now.
And how cool and badass does Hyun Bin look, stunt riding that motorbike and wielding weapons, while wearing the most determined, focused expression on his face? Squee! More than that though, I’m moved by how Jung Hyuk’s literally putting his life on the line to keep Se Ri safe. He may hold back with his words, always gruffly telling her things like there’s no reason for them to keep mementos of each other, and to forget him and everything she’s been through in North Korea once she gets home, but his actions speak much louder: he cares about her, so much.
E7. Se Ri’s faced with the choice of either going home and leaving Jung Hyuk to possibly bleed to death, or staying to save him, and give up her chance of going home, possibly for good. And she chooses him, unequivocally. When it was between driving to the hospital or to the airport, she chooses the hospital without hesitation, and when it was between donating blood or leaving for her flight, she chooses to donate her blood to Jung Hyuk. Yes, it can be argued that this is the humanitarian thing to do; that a humane person wouldn’t leave an injured person to die; that this is not necessarily love. But we know that Se Ri loves Jung Hyuk, and chooses him over herself because she loves him. And isn’t it nice to know that she’s a good, humane person too, to boot?
E7. Why would the photo of Se Ri fall out so conveniently, from Jung Hyuk’s bloodied uniform? Probably because he’d looked at it, just before setting off on that mission to save her; gazed upon her face, while thinking upon his promise to protect her. Augh. The devotion.
E7. A confirmation of feelings before episode 8? That’s unusual, but I’m not complaining. The lead-up to the kiss was predictable, but still poignant. They each literally put their lives on the line, in order to save the other, and it rightly calls for a lot of emotion, and some tears. And some honesty. Confronted with all that they’ve faced in the space of a single day, it feels believable, and quite right, that their feelings for each other would come flooding out. I would believe that Jung Hyuk, faced with what Se Ri’s given up in order to save him, would act on his feelings and kiss her. I do like that it’s a gentle, tentative kiss, and I also like that that gentle tentative kiss is also quite.. enduring. The execution isn’t exactly swoony, but just the concept of it makes me melt a little.
E8. Jung Hyuk’s pleased expression when he hears from the kpop fan hospital patient that he’s Se Ri’s favorite and biggest bias, is cute.
E8. I don’t like lying between OTPs, neither do I like noble idiocy, where one party leaves the other for their own good. But, in this case, I can buy that it makes sense within our story. Se Ri (well, is told, and) believes that Jung Hyuk’s life will be in danger if she continues to allow him to help her, and it’s actually true, in the context of North Korea, so it makes sense that she would say stuff that she believes will stop Jung Hyuk in his tracks, and let him be safe, away from her. It’s still a bummer to watch unfold, though.
E8. Jung Hyuk is ever the gentleman. When Se Ri asks what he’s doing at the guesthouse, he says that he figured she’d be waiting for him (rather than that he needed to save her coz she’d been kidnapped, for example), and when she tells him her plan and asks him to leave, he looks into her eyes and asks if that’s what she really wants. And when she tells him yes, he answers gently, “I understand. So don’t cry,” as he wipes away her tears with his thumb. Augh.
It’s clear from the look in his eyes that he’s hearing her words, but is reading her face and her tears, and he knows that she doesn’t want to push him away, but he chooses to respect her wishes anyway. It’s no wonder that she cries even harder, having to say goodbye to such a sweet and caring man.
E8. Driven by concern for him, out in the snowy cold, and fueled by her surging emotions at having to say goodbye to him, Se Ri drives out to get Jung Hyuk. When she finds him, she can barely meet his eyes, and tells him to get in the car. His watchful gaze never leaves her; he sees her tears, her awkwardness; he hears her feeble words, but sees her sadness and her struggle, and this time, he allows himself to respond not to her words, but to her heart, and pulls her into his embrace. Aw.
E8. Given how tender and sweet Jung Hyuk is towards her, it’s no wonder that we learn that Se Ri has changed a lot from a year ago. From a lonely workaholic who keeps her team working on the night of Christmas Eve, apparently genuinely believing that there’s nothing to celebrate, she’s become a person who cares enough for someone else, to go to all the trouble of making decorations to create a makeshift Christmas tree, make a personalized Christmas card for her Mr. Lee, and even pawn the ring on her finger to get him a gift.
E8. Because of their literal life-or-death situation, the stakes and emotions are suitably amped up for this OTP relationship, which also effectively elevates our vicarious experience. Jung Hyuk literally risks his life to grant Se Ri’s wish of returning to South Korea, and Se Ri literally puts her life on the line, while making that final phone call to tell Jung Hyuk goodbye, and that she loves him.
E9. I’d been accidentally spoiled that there would be a scene where Jung Hyuk has a heartfelt love confession type outburst in front of his dad, and yet, that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the scene. It was a pretty fantastic mix of emotions, in response to watching the scene. First, I was glad to see Jung Hyuk and Se Ri reunited; Show is at its best when these two are together, and I also wanted Jung Hyuk to be put out of his fearful misery about Se Ri possibly being dead. And, it was sweet (almost saccharine, but just shy of it) to see them show so much unabashed concern, love and care for each other, oblivious to the fact that his parents are right there in the room, looking on. He’s all concerned that she’s not hurt, and she’s all dismayed at his injuries from being beaten up; they only have eyes for each other, and it’s admittedly both sweet and poignant.
What’s fantastic, though, is Dad’s shocked face, which remains completely frozen in a raised-eyebrow, dumbfounded sort of state, through every stage of the not-quite-a-couple’s reunion. It’s the greatest thing, and it made me giggle out loud, even as I also wanted to melt at our OTP’s demonstration of care for each other. Pretty fantastic handling indeed.
E9. It’s such a sweet-dorky thing for Jung Hyuk to do, to pretend to get lost over and over again, because he wants to delay saying goodbye to Se Ri. Their conversation is so bittersweet, as he tells her to go back to life as if nothing ever happened, and when she mentions that she will date men and he appears dismayed by it (though he denies it), she agrees to have a mourning period of 6 months, like she’d once requested of him. How sweet, that he tells her to go ahead and date men if she likes; he just doesn’t want her to be lonely, nor does he want her to ever consider ending her life again. How selflessly caring, and with Se Ri tearing up so much, I have to admit that I feel her reluctance and wistfulness too.
It’s a plaintive moment, when Se Ri steps over the boundary line, after Jung Hyuk tells her that he can’t go any further with her, not even a single step. She walks away, even more teary-eyed than before, and I love it that emotion takes over our usually decorous captain, and he steps over the boundary line, grabs her arm, and murmuring, “Just one step should be fine,” leans in to kiss her. Squee! The kiss itself is tame by cable standards, but I will buy that that’s Jung Hyuk’s sense of decorum kicking in.
E9. That’s a cute little detail, that Se Ri had left a coded message for Jung Hyuk by arranging his books on the shelf such that the first character of each book would read, “I love you Ri Jung Hyuk.” Cute! And, how clever, that he would actually understand the coded message, coz I personally would’ve found it quite obtuse.
E10. How very like Jung Hyuk, to just look for Se Ri in the neighborhood that she’d mentioned, and how like this show, to make it such that they would meet face to face in the crowd. I guess these two have a knack for being in the same place at the same time? I do like his simple explanation, though. It’s so like him, to say only a few words, to explain some big sweeping gesture that he’s made. Se Ri’s eyes brimming with tears, full of wonder, disbelief, questions and gladness, kind of mirrors how I feel about this reunion. I like it, it feels good, and I also want to know more, heh.
E11. The scene where Major Cho is hunting down Se Ri, while Jung Hyuk is entrapped in a deserted building with a whole gang of men trying to kill him, was hard to watch. I literally had to pause the episode before coming back to it. How telling, though, that Se Ri would literally put herself further into danger’s way, in order to save Jung Hyuk.
And, she tells him to leave because she’s ok – when she’s far from ok. I must say, though, I do appreciate the idea that Se Ri and Jung Hyuk essentially save each other. When Jung Hyuk’s about to be shot, she saves him by turning off the lights and calling Major Cho’s bluff; he saves her by tracking her voice and finding her before Major Cho does, so that he can protect her. That.. is pretty intense stuff.
E11. These two are developing a bad habit of continually telling each other that they’re ok, and everything’s fine, when it’s the opposite of the truth. Jung Hyuk almost died coming to South Korea, but he tells her it was all fine and that nothing happened. Se Ri’s family is anything but happy that she’s back, but she tells him that he was right, and everyone was glad, and it’s all fine. And then this thing, when Se Ri tells Jung Hyuk to run away, because she’s fine. I get that they want to protect each other, and not worry each other, but.. this is getting unhealthy.
E12. The thinly disguised drunken chat between Se Ri and Jung Hyuk feels quite cheesy and lame in its setup, but I have to confess that I choked up a bit, when Jung Hyuk confessed wistfully that he actually wanted to stay and marry Se Ri, and have a kid that takes after her. Aw.
E12. After the boys’ failed birthday surprise, the tears and sobs, the embarrassment, the effort of trying to stop crying – and then Jung Hyuk’s gentle backhug, is all very heart-in-your-throat stuff, and yet, I can’t take actual comfort in the moment, because Jung Hyuk’s backhug is so tenuous, in context. This is only assurance in the moment, not assurance for the future, and his words, that he will always remember her and think of her gratefully on her birthday, are just very heart-achey to hear. Oof.
E13. Jung Hyuk giving Se Ri couple rings is a mixed signal indeed, given that they’re carefully avoiding making promises to each other, and have agreed not to make too many memories together. I feel like this is Jung Hyuk having mixed feelings. He wants to give her something significant, but they’ve agreed not to, and that’s why he tries to brush it off in his preamble. But it totally means something, and I melt a little, that the ring fits her so perfectly.
E13. I’ve seen comments asking why Se Ri and Jung Hyuk aren’t kissing during the romantic moments. I get where viewers are coming from, and I also think I get where Show is coming from, too. Jung Hyuk and Se Ri have admitted to their feelings for each other, but have basically agreed not to act on their feelings, well, too much, anyway. They’ve avoided making promises to each other, and in Korea, kissing is considered a bigger deal than, say, in the US. Generally speaking, of course. I think that in this context, even though Jung Hyuk has kissed Se Ri, they are consciously holding back from getting too involved because there’s an impending goodbye.
E14. Hyun Bin kills it, as worried, tearful Jung Hyuk, as Se Ri undergoes surgery for her gunshot wound. Despite my inner wrestlings with this show, I couldn’t help but be sucked in, as Jung Hyuk silently watches over Se Ri from a distance, worry written in his gaze, and his heart in his throat. And that moment when Se Ri calls Jung Hyuk to let him know that she’s awake, and to ask him to come back, I swooned a little, even as Jung Hyuk makes big strides, beelining in her direction, the tears sheening in his eyes. Augh. I felt all of the feels, watching Jung Hyuk hone in on her and her alone, with his heart practically bursting out of his chest.
Se Ri and Jung Hyuk crying, reflex-bickering, and then just simply crying, is very heartfelt, and I can even understand why Jung Hyuk would get upset at her, because she’d put her life in danger. Their tearful embrace is gentle and tender, and Jung Hyuk finally gets to tell Se Ri the words that he’s kept in his heart all this time, as he whispers, “I love you.” Aw. And, sniffle.
E14. The scene where Jung Hyuk shows off his various battle scares to Se Ri is quite funny. The more scars he shows her, the more Se Ri clucks in sympathy and coos that it must’ve hurt, and the more he digs around for more scars to show her. It’s no wonder his shirt is half off when the boys walk in on them; what a difficult situation to explain away indeed. Snicker.
Seung Joon and Dan
Just like with our OTP, I found that Show was better when Seung Joon and Dan were together than apart.
We don’t get a whole lot of screen time with this couple and their loveline, but I must say that given the limited exposure I got to this loveline, my heart was very effectively sucked in. I found myself actually rooting for this couple, and I’m impressed that Show managed to achieve this, with the slightly highlight reel vibe of this loveline.
[VAGUE SPOILERS] We go from aloof, disdainful start (on Dan’s part), to reluctant meaningful conversations and encounters, to actual heartfelt declarations of love in relatively quick order, because of this couple’s smaller amount of screen time, and even though my brain protested the speedy acceleration of this loveline, my heart argued that sometimes people do fall in love fast and deep, and shipped them anyway. [END SPOILER]
I think credit goes not only to the solid chemistry between Kim Jung Hyun and Seo Ji Hye, but also to their deliveries. Even when my brain protested how quickly Seung Joon and Dan grew closer, their all-in, heartfelt deliveries sold it for me, and it wasn’t long before I concluded that these two are just perfect for each other.
I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this couple, though I have some thoughts on how Show eventually treats this loveline, which I’ll talk about later.
E7. Seung Joon’s encounters with Dan are usually played as light and a little comedic, but they really do seem to connect well. She doesn’t welcome his presence per se, but he’s undeterred, and tells her things that she may not want to hear, but are useful for her to hear. Like how she is barking up the wrong tree, expecting sparks in an arranged marriage. No one else would tell her that, but he offers it up, frankly and without any attempt to sugarcoat the hard truth. As much of a bummer as it is to Dan to hear it, she seems to appreciate the truth, even as she wrestles with it. Also, these two look very cute together.
E9. I see why people are shipping Seung Joon and Dan, their shared scene where she gets all drunk and slurry, and where he carries her home and she drunkenly tells him to stay the night, is quite funny, and they do share solid chemistry. Plus, she tells him stuff, albeit when she’s tipsy, but I do think it means that on some level, she trusts him.
E10. I dig the growing connection between Seung Joon and Seo Dan. The fact that she would vouch for him even though she has to lie to do it, shows that she trusts him. And I like that he sees through all her attempts to pretend that everything’s ok, and isn’t afraid to tell her everything as it is. He’s right, she should let go of Jung Hyuk; it really is game over.
E11. Seung Joon becoming increasingly preoccupied and obsessed with Dan is quite amusing. Plus it’s rather great that they save each other; he’s her knight with shining umbrella, saving her from humiliation in front of her gossipy friends, and she gives him a place to stay when he has nowhere else to go. These two get along better than they’d like to admit, and Seung Joon obsessing over what Dan meant with every word that she said, is quite funny.
Essentially, Seung Joon and Dan are to each other what they never got otherwise. Dan’s finally the object of a man’s undivided attention, and he’s discombobulated by her, to boot. She absolutely never had that with Jung Hyuk, even though they were engaged to be married. And Dan is a natural at being aloof and playing hard to get – when she’s not even actually trying to play hard to get. It’s a bait that she doesn’t even know that she’s putting out, and Seung Joon cannot help but bite, because he’s so used to charming all the ladies whenever he wants. These two are quite perfect for each other, I think.
E12. I don’t quite buy the whole revenge arc that Show is throwing in now, all of a sudden, but Dan getting all fired up and upset on Seung Joon’s behalf is rather cute, I have to admit.
E13. Even though Seung Joon and Dan have only known each other for a short period, I somehow buy that Seung Joon really does like her sincerely. I appreciate that he tells her the truth, when she asks him why he’d gone to Jung Hyuk’s house.
E14. Aw, Seung Joon seeks Dan out because he’s worried about her after seeing her cry, and even offers to be her punching bag if that would make her feel better. The way he blurts out all the details that make her so attractive and charming in his eyes, is pretty darn awesome.
“I told you before. I’m not going to lie to you ever again. So you have to listen carefully to me. First of all, you’re pretty.” … “You look good with your hair loose or tied up. Even if you suddenly come out without makeup on, you look like a goddess. And you seemed so charismatic when you saved me. You were so cool.” … “You’re coy, haughty, and unfriendly, but I just can’t hate you. To be honest, you even… look cute. You make me wonder what the guy you care for is like. I even feel jealous. And you make me want to become a better man. You’re so amazing that you make me feel that way. You are an amazing woman.”
Swoon. She can’t help but be affected by it and by him, and – eee! – kisses ensue. I do wish we had more time with this couple.
Jung Hyuk and the Puppy Boys
It’s the stereotypical manly man thing to do, not to articulate your love for your best buds, but that love is often clear to see, in how you relate to one another, and in how you’d literally put our life on the line for your brothers, and that’s exactly how I see the relationship between Jung Hyuk and his Puppies.
The boys respect that Jung Hyuk is their Captain, and they take his orders seriously. But it’s in the fierce loyalty in their eyes, when push comes to shove, that tells me that these boys love Jung Hyuk more than they love themselves, and that Jung Hyuk would do anything to protect them.
[SPOILER] We see the puppies’ love and loyalty for Jung Hyuk starkly, in episode 13, during the flashback in the epilogue, of how the boys pledge, with earnest tears in their eyes, to stay behind to help protect Se Ri, ignoring their standing orders to return to the North. I like the sentiment, that Se Ri is important to them too, and I believe it, with the happy affection that we’ve seen, from their reunion with her. But beyond that, the burgeoning emotion, on the part of the puppies, and also, on the part of Jung Hyuk, was moving to behold. This was a deep expression of loyalty and love for Jung Hyuk too.
And then in episode 15, Jung Hyuk valiantly tries to take all the blame, when he and the boys are taken in to the NIS. He knows that if he’s successful, he will face severe consequences, but he’s willing to endure that, in order to protect the ones that he loves: Se Ri, and his boys too. [END SPOILER]
Se Ri and the Puppy Boys
I really enjoyed Se Ri’s relationship with the boys.
Despite their slightly rocky start, Se Ri soon endears herself to the boys, and I really liked watching the bond between them grow. Each of them relates to her differently – [MINOR SPOILER] Chi Soo is always gruff, Ju Meok constantly wants to talk to her about kdramas, Kwang Bum is reserved but respectful, and Eun Dong is like her youngest child, even moving towards her and leaning in, so that she can pat him on the head, ha [END SPOILER] – and together, they really do strike me as a bunch of kids of varying ages, relating to their Mom.
It’s very cute and endearing, and also, quite strongly poignant to me, because there’s the whole North-South divide underscoring the whole thing, and I just want them to be able to hang out together like this, always.
E3. The awards ceremony that Se Ri holds is so random and bizarre, but the boys really get into it, and both Chi Soo and Jung Hyuk get a bit grumpy when they don’t get an award, hee. Cute.
E6. Se Ri having a farewell picnic with the boys is the cutest, most poignant, endearing thing. They really can’t bear to see her go, and so earnestly want to show her a good time. Thank goodness they didn’t slaughter the cute piglet though. Eep.
The puppy crew really are the cutest. The way they bumble around in the water trying to catch fish for their picnic, and then roar and jump and dance with delight when they actually do catch a fish, feels so childlike, pure and innocent. And the way they bring all the food and huddle around Se Ri, is like kiddos proudly bringing food to Mom. Aw.
E9. Se Ri and the boys saying their goodbyes is such a wistful thing. They are sorry to see her leave, and they hide it with gruff words, like Chi Soo telling her not to come back to North Korea, or he’ll bury her, and then end off with instructions to each other, to be well, and not fall sick. Aw.
E12. Se Ri group hugging the boys in the park is so poignant, because she’d thought that she would never see them again. The tearful gladness in her eyes and theirs is really sweet.
E13. I do like the way Se Ri’s birthday is celebrated with both North and South traditions. They have a cake in South tradition, but the song is from the North, and then Se Ri teaches them to make a wish, and they all blow out the candles together, in their own brand new tradition. Aw.
E13. I appreciate that Se Ri, Jung Hyuk and the boys effectively foil Major Cho’s big plan by using the weapon that all of us viewers have been imploring our characters to use all this time: communication. It was pretty great to see in flashback how they just communicated with one another and kept things transparent, and worked together to come up with a plan.
E14. The boys rushing in to hug Se Ri at the hospital, is so endearing. They do get stopped by Jung Hyuk, who instructs them to keep it to handshakes coz she’s still fragile, ha, but they really did want to hug her. They really do love her; they’re like a bunch of kids rushing to their mom, lol.
Se Ri and the Village Ahjummas
I also really enjoyed watching Se Ri getting to know the ahjummas. They are as different as chalk and cheese – a South Korean chaebol heiress and a bunch of North Korean village ahjummas? Cue hijinks! – and while Show milks the differences for some well-executed amusement and hilarity, the heartfelt bond that results, is so completely heartwarming and moving, that I couldn’t help but choke up at it all.
I just loved the idea that this newly cemented sisterhood was something that transcended all of their differences, and spoke to their hearts, universally. <3
E4. Se Ri getting along with the ahjummas is very amusing. She’s a natural at buttering up Head Ahjumma, but the others can’t help but be endeared of her too. I like that she took a dress that was pronounced too frumpy to be suitable as a birthday gift, and turned it into Head Ahjumma’s favorite present. Her fashion spin doctor skills are truly next level.
E5. Tee hee. The ahjumma squad knocking down Se Ri’s door so that they could drink with her in her perceived time of heartbreak, is so endearing. They are so adamantly on Se Ri’s side, and even vow to punish Jung Ryuk for breaking her heart. How cute. And also, how bittersweet, that this is likely the first time Se Ri’s experienced such loyalty and sisterhood.
E10. Se Ri leaving a letter for the ahjummas is very sweet. She did lie to them about her identity, but her affection for them is real, and that shows, in her letter. Even though she has to say goodbye, and will likely never see them again, she takes the trouble to tell them the truth, and thank them for their company and support. Aw.
STUFF THAT WAS OK
Oh Man Suk as Major Cho
To be honest, during my first watch, Major Cho struck me as mostly a caricature of a plot device; evil just because the story called for it, and hammed up for dramatic effect. I didn’t have any sympathy for Major Cho that I could speak of, to be honest.
But then, during my second watch, I had a bit of an Aha! moment in episode 6 (details in the spoiler section below), which helped me to make sense of Major Cho a lot more. Because of this new perspective, I found that I had a little more compassion for Major Cho, even though I still think he shouldn’t have done all those terrible things.
Also, for the record, I don’t think this role made the best use of Oh Man Suk’s talents; I would’ve preferred if Major Cho was played with a little more nuance and subtlety, and I am sure Oh Man Suk is fully capable of that. It’s just not what PD-nim &/or writer-nim called for.
[SPOILER ALERT] I realize episode 6 is the first time we are told anything of Major Cho’s background. Before, all it looks like is that he’s a bad guy with a dirty record and isn’t afraid to kill people for his convenience, to keep the books “clean.” But now, we learn that he’s an orphan who roamed the streets, with no parents or siblings to speak of. That.. reminds me of the orphan boy who tried to steal Jung Hyuk’s jacket. And it also reminds me of Seung Joon, who is also all alone in the world.
Major Cho says that he’s where he is today because of the Senior Colonel, but really, he’s basically clawed his way out of poverty, hasn’t he? In a system where orphans don’t really have many options, it looks like he threw away conscience and morality in exchange for survival, money and power. I wonder if he would have turned out differently, if he hadn’t been an orphan in dire straits?
In this conversation, he says to the Senior Colonel that they’re family, and family should stick together to the end. How sadly ironic, that in the end, Major Cho dies alone, even as he makes it his last effort to take Jung Hyuk with him, so that he wouldn’t be alone, in the end. [END SPOILER]
Se Ri’s family
I feel like Se Ri’s family was written in, just to be the source of her troubles. To me, Dad seemed more like set dressing. I’ll talk about Mom next; for this section, I just wanted to highlight her two Oppas and their wives.
Se Hyung and his wife (Yoon Ji Min) are the more devious scheming pair, and provide our story with its requisite South Korean Baddie. I didn’t like them much. But, I did find Se Joon and his wife (Choi Dae Hoon and Hwang Woo Seul Hye) quite harmless and entertaining. In particular, I found Se Joon’s wife quite amusing, and I actually found her slight lisp quite endearing.
The thing with Tortured Mom
In the overall scheme of things, I didn’t care so much, for the whole thing with Tortured Mom and the teased backstory between her and Se Ri.
Mainly, when Show does the Big Reveal in episode 14, I felt like it all fell flat, a little bit.
We finally see that Mom’s always cared about Se Ri, and that she very much regretted abandoning Se Ri before (which had something to do with Mom wanting to end her life, but I don’t get the connection, it’s presented so weirdly. I mean, you wanted to end your life, so you brought Se Ri to the beach with you? What does that mean? Did you mean to kill her as you killed yourself? Gah.), and it’s sweet that she asks Jung Hyuk to continue to stay at Se Ri’s side.
But, after Mom’s outburst during Se Ri’s coma, begging her to wake up, I’m kind of disappointed that we never see Mom coming clean with Se Ri to tell her how she really feels. And yet, Se Ri’s relationship with Mom improves drastically through to the end of the show. So, Se Ri forgives Mom but never actually gets that face-to-face, heart-to-heart talk that Mom said she desperately wanted? That’s quite uncool, I think.
Also, with this knowledge of the truth behind Mom’s tortured expression, her behavior just didn’t make a lot of sense during my second watch. Basically, Mom is saying that she’s all tortured and messed up because she’s punishing herself, by not accepting the love that Se Ri’s always freely given. But, in Show’s earlier episodes, we see her speaking harshly to Se Ri, and telling her things like Se Ri’s made Mom’s life a living hell, that Se Ri doesn’t deserve to dream, in episode 9. How does this add up? And, if Mom truly felt guilty for how she’d treated Se Ri, doesn’t it make her quite a terrible person, for continuing to lash out at Se Ri, while cognizant of her own guilt towards Se Ri?
This just didn’t work for me very well.
The idea of the OTP Big Fate
Show lays on the OTP’s Big Fate in thick, fat layers, with a very heavy hand, and I honestly don’t think it was necessary.
Like I mentioned earlier in this review, the development of the OTP loveline was robust, organic and all-around well done, so much so that an extra indication that these two people belonged together because of a Gigantic, Far-Reaching Destiny, just felt like Show was taking the idea that These Two People Belongg Togetherr, and hitting us repeatedly in the head with it.
Whenever Jung Hyuk or Se Ri started talking about fate and destiny with tears in their eyes, I have to confess, I rolled my eyes a little. But I will concede that Show managed to pull off that Big Fate in a rather poetic manner, for the most part.
Show’s saving grace to me, on this front, is the fact that Jung Hyuk and Se Ri’s connection was built and teased out so well, that it didn’t need a Big Fate to back it up. And because this Big Fate wasn’t foundational to the OTP relationship, I found it easier to look past.
It can be challenging to keep track of details
Because we have a pretty sprawling story spanning the two Koreas, and many characters and arcs to go with, I found that it was sometimes challenging to keep track of story &/or character details.
A lot of things made more sense, on my second watch, simply because this time, I had my bearings figured out, and I had narrative context for the entire story, which meant that everything fit together a lot better in my head, as a result. This made the story feel much more cohesive to me, on my second watch. Which means, credit to writer-nim, a lot of narrative details were well thought-out. It’s just hard to actually comprehend them all, the first time around.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Sometimes Show’s sense of humor bugged me
Generally speaking, I didn’t find myself struggling much with Show’s idea of humor, which is a Big Plus, for me. However, there were a couple of occasions in Show’s second half, where the humor struck me as rather insensitive, and that made me uncomfortable.
[SPOILER] Mainly, I’m referring to the Puppies’ efforts to find Se Ri and Jung Hyuk in episode 12. I thought their initial wide-eyed wonder upon their arrival in Seoul was cute and amusing, but by episode 12, I felt like Show had shifted gears, and was making the boys seem quite lame and stupid. I felt quite uneasy at the way Show was making the boys seem so inept and dim, just because they’re from North Korea. I mean, these are supposed to be well-trained Special Forces soldiers, so it didn’t make sense to me that they were portrayed behaving in foolish, dull ways. And imagining North Korean viewers watch these same scenes (because they do consume kdramas as contraband, as Show emphasizes), made me wonder how they would feel. To my mind, I felt like a North Korean viewer might well take offense at this spate of jokes made at the boys’ expense. And, since Show clearly knows that it is likely to have North Korean viewers, this seemed rather insensitive, from my point of view.
I concede though, that having the boys ooh and ahh over basic things like electricity and running water, makes me grateful for what I have. I guess I want Show to help me be grateful, without making the boys look stupid. [END SPOILER]
Thankfully, this wasn’t something that was stretched out over many episodes, and so this wasn’t a deal-breaker for me.
Even though ridiculousness and logic stretching is built into Show’s premise (who survives a typhoon while paragliding, and without serious injury, right?), there are a number of logic stretches &/or plot holes which niggled at me.
It’s for the best, if you’re able to close your eyes to these things and just enjoy your watch. But for the record, here are the things that bugged me, or made me snicker, during my watch.
Se Ri’s depression and suicidal tendencies
Se Ri is written as having gone to Switzerland seeking physical-assisted suicide because of a long history of depression and anxiety. The doctor doesn’t grant her request, and instead suggests she take in the sights of beautiful Switzerland – and lo and behold, it actually does poof Se Ri’s suicidal tendencies away. I’m no expert on depression, but I’m pretty sure that someone with actual suicidal tendencies – especially someone serious enough about it that they’d seek out physician-assisted suicide or actually attempt jumping off a bridge – can’t just snap out of it, after gazing at pretty scenery? This made no sense to me.
I know this is part of Show’s fairytale, but it does bug me that this is how depression is portrayed, especially after we’ve already lost so many k-celebs to suicide fueled by depression. :/
E7. I still can’t get over how ridiculous it is, to have a piano sitting on the edge of a pier like that. It’s so bad for the piano, and for someone like Jung Hyuk, who’s such an advanced pianist, it’s impossible that he didn’t know what bad things would happen to the piano from sitting out there like that, and I don’t think someone who loved piano would allow that to happen to a piano.
E10. There’s one thing that I feel doesn’t quite line up. We saw Seung Joon meet Se Ri in flashback for a blind date, where she turned him down unequivocally, telling him that there would be no second date. But, for the rest of the show, we’re told that Se Ri and Seung Joon were once engaged, and this episode, Seung Joon even tells Jung Hyuk that Se Ri broke off the engagement a few weeks before the wedding. That doesn’t add up.
E10. The way Major Cho is rescued requires quite a bit of suspension of disbelief. He sits smugly in the back of the vehicle, while a shoot-out is happening between the men in his vehicle and the men in the monster truck, and is escorted out unscathed, even though lots of bullets go through the vehicle in the meantime. It’s a little unbelievable, that there were no stray bullets that grazed him, in all of the fray, or that he wouldn’t feel the need to, y’know, duck?
E11. Jung Hyuk keeps saying that once he captures Major Cho, that he’ll leave immediately. But, how? He’s in South Korea, alone, on a secret self-assigned mission. It’s not like he has actual back-up officers with a plane or boat waiting to take him back to North Korea. Plus, he makes it sound like he could leave at anytime. How would that work, is what I want to know. Does he intend to just swim back??
E13. I get that Jung Hyuk and the puppies are all stunned that Se Ri’s been shot, but it niggles at me that these guys are all Special Forces trained, and therefore should know the basics of how to treat a patient with a gunshot wound. I mean, at least put pressure on the wound to stem the bleeding?
E14. Pfft. Major Cho was shot in his left shoulder (I double-checked, which the wardrobe and continuity folks clearly didn’t do), but in the scene with the illegal doctor, the bandage and wound is on his right shoulder, and remains on his right shoulder, for the rest of the show.
The unreasonably long episodes
Clearly, Show does not think that being concise is a virtue, because man, those episodes get really long!
Even though it’s become quite typical for an episode of a tvN drama to average 1 hour 15 minutes, Show pushes the envelope a great deal. Some episodes hit 1 hour 30 minutes or more, and the finale itself was a whopping 1 hour 51 minutes. I mean. They could’ve literally made a 24-episode show with hour-long episodes, and that would’ve worked out to be the same thing.
This quirk of Show’s actually affected my watch momentum, because the long episodes just seemed so daunting, that I’d sometimes put off watching an episode, coz I wasn’t feeling up to 1 hour 30 minutes of drama commitment. This didn’t help, especially during the mid-show drag, which I’ll talk about next.
On top of this, I actually felt like the long episodes made it easy for details to get lost. It’s easy to forget a detail that’s casually shared in the midst of a movie-length episode of drama, and it also becomes much harder to keep track of multiple details across multiple movie-length episodes of drama, if you know what I mean.
I feel like on this point, Show leaned too indulgent of itself.
The perceived mid-show drag
I personally felt a degree of drag between episodes 8 to 13.
[SPOILER] This is where the angst kicks in most, I think, and the long episodes coupled with angst just didn’t do Show any favors, at least in my experience. The angst, when coupled with the very long episodes, makes for a general feel of narrative drag. Like, I signed up for feels, and I know angst comes with the package, but I’m not quite prepared to consume angst in such extended servings. Which is why, during this angsty stretch, served up in long episodes, I consistently had the urge to pause the episode and do something else, if only to give myself a break from the amped up angst.
As a result, I didn’t enjoy this stretch of the drama as much as the other episodes. In fact, I even resented Show to some degree, because these episodes weren’t just angsty, they were so longg. To Show’s credit, when the good bits showed up, I still liked ’em a lot. But, for the record, because of the angst and danger hanging over our characters, I felt like I couldn’t truly enjoy the cute or sweet moments that Show served up to alleviate the angst.
Additionally, I felt that Show sometimes toyed with my feelings as well, like in episode 12, where Se Ri comes home to an empty apartment and starts crying, believing that Jung Hyuk has left. I do think Show toyed with us by dragging out the misunderstanding, and having the boys come out of hiding so late. That felt unnatural to me, coz if you see the birthday girl that you’re trying to surprise sob-crying on the floor, after calling out to ask if Jung Hyuk’s already left, you stop the ruse, immediately, right? But no, the boys come out only a few long minutes later, extending Se Ri’s agony needlessly. I felt like this is Show toying with us as an audience, and I was not pleased about it.
Let me put it this way. It felt like Show was taking me on a rollercoaster of emotions. In a single episode (in this case, episode 13), I’m giggling at the dorky cuteness of Ju Meok finally meeting his goddess Choi Ji Woo, then I’m holding my breath as the puppies rally round to save both Se Ri and Jung Hyuk, and then I’m shaking my head as the puppies gather around and cry over Se Ri, who’s bleeding out from a gunshot wound. I mean. I’m on the rollercoaster, but I also feel like I’m being dragged unwillingly onto a rollercoaster that’s more than what I bargained for. [END SPOILER]
Again, like I mentioned in the very beginning of this review, this angsty stretch might not feel like drag to you, if you have a bigger appetite for narrative angst. Also, happily, I enjoyed Show’s last couple of episodes just fine, despite the monster length episodes.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILER]
I love how the village ahjummas band together and basically rescue Man Bok’s family from being taken away by bad men impersonating the authorities. Ahjumma sisterhood for the win!
I find it fitting that Major Cho would bring about his own death, in a last desperate bid to take Jung Hyuk down with him. But I don’t believe that Jung Hyuk would have taken his own life, even though he’d put his gun to his own head for a moment. I see it more as an indication of how lost he felt, in that moment, thinking Major Cho’s lies about his parents’ inevitable execution to be true.
The way Se Ri is so distraught at the sight of the boys being taken away, and insists on going with them, and the way the boys yell at her equally desperately to stay where she is and take care of herself, says so much about how much these people have come to love and care for one another. They’re family now, and it hurts so good.
Although I understand that Jung Hyuk believes that telling the truth will hurt Se Ri, and that’s why he concocts that lie about using her and sticks to his guns even when Se Ri is right in front of him, that was hard to watch. Even though Se Ri knows that he’s lying to protect her, I’m sure the words still sting, and I’m kind of surprised that Jung Hyuk sticks with it to the end, even though she looks like she’s so near collapsing right then and there.
Both Son Ye Jin and Hyun Bin deliver fantastic performances in this scene. I honestly believe that Se Ri is about to collapse from exhaustion, heartache and physical pain; her breathing is so labored and it looks like it literally hurts her to talk. And Jung Hyuk, while remaining stony-faced through their entire conversation, can’t hide the slight sheen of tears in his eyes, as he watches Se Ri struggle, and as he firmly keeps his words brusque and harsh. Oof. This was hard to watch, but the control both actors demonstrate in this scene is very gratifying to witness. I’m especially impressed by Hyun Bin’s ability to allow just that tiny sheen of tears in his eyes, without shifting his facial muscles at all; just enough to be visible, but far from being enough to actually allow tears to fall. That’s skillz.
Of course, everything changes when Se Ri does faint and Jung Hyuk is told that she’s in critical condition. Nothing can hide how much he cares about her; even the NIS officer can clearly tell how much Jung Hyuk loves Se Ri.
The way Jung Hyuk rushes out and freezes the moment he sees Se Ri being carried away, unconscious, says everything about how he really feels, and the tears that he’s been holding back, finally fall from his eyes, his expression no longer stony; now only full of regret, despair and a sense of lostness. Really good.
Even as Se Ri fights for her life, we hear in Jung Hyuk’s voiceover how, if he could do it all over again, he wouldn’t meet her, so that she’d be safe and happy. And we hear in Se Ri’s voice, how, if she could do it all over again, she’d choose to do it all over again, so that she’d have the chance to know and love Jung Hyuk. It all looks quite different on the surface, but ultimately, they would both choose the more self-sacrificial path, for the sake of their love. He would rather choose to be lonely and not to experience love, than to expose her to hurt, and she would rather choose to experience the pain, rather than not love him at all.
As poignant as this is, the most poignant moment this episode, belongs to Seung Joon. I first felt my heart pinch for him when he teared up at the orphans’ song, about not having parents or siblings, and no one would cry for them if they died. It’s an awfully sad song, and it strikes a deep chord with Seung Joon because that’s exactly how he feels. He has no family, and no one to mourn his loss, if he were to die.
And then I teared up again, when Seung Joon says his goodbye to Dan, telling her how much he likes her, and putting the ring on her finger, apologizing that that’s the best he can do for now, and that if he comes back to visit her in the future, and if she’s still single, if she would give him a chance. The tears that accompany this quiet confession, both his and hers, really made my heart pinch; these two are so perfect for each other, and yet, circumstances dictate that they can’t be together, and they say goodbye, cognizant of all these things. How painful.
In the end, I’m not surprised that Seung Joon gives up his chance to leave in order to save Dan, but I am quite pleasantly surprised at the badass sort of ending he gets. He enters the warehouse where Dan is being held, rifle at the ready, and quickly takes down the baddies, one after the other, like a seasoned hero. Dang that he gets a bullet in the heart as he delivers his last shot, but if he had to go, this was a pretty heroic way to die. And, I thought his parting voiceover quite perfect:
“I was wrong. When I die, there is someone who cries for me. The fact you are that person makes me sad and happy.” … “If one of us must die while the other lives on… If that’s fate, it’s only right that I die and you live on. It’s only right.”
Tear. Heart. Break.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
For a finale where I ran into spoilers even while actively trying to dodge them, I’m pleasantly surprised that Show manages a final episode that feels quite satisfying and even a little bit fresh. This, despite its monstrous running time of almost 2 hours. I mean, while watching this finale, I didn’t even mind the length of the episode. Wow. That’s impressive.
The thing that I found saddest, is Seung Joon’s death. I mean, I can understand that narratively speaking, it’s really kinda hard for Seung Joon to make a meaningful life for himself in or out of North Korea. He’s a wanted man whether he stays in North Korea or leaves it, and he’s committed quite a few crimes, so there is no safe haven where he can make a new life for him and Dan, even though that’s what he’d like to do.
I appreciate that Show gave him the chance to go out a hero. Any man who’s willing to lay down his life for the one that he loves, deserves admiration, and he laid it all down for Dan, knowing that it might cost him everything.
What hurts me, is where this leaves poor Dan. She’s lived the past 10 years as Jung Hyuk’s shadow fiancee, seen, but barely acknowledged, and certainly not loved. And now, just as she finally experiences actual love for the first time, with a man whom she’s just getting to know, he dies protecting her, and she loses him, just like that, forever. How crushing.
I know it’s better to have loved and lost rather than not have loved at all, but.. for a woman who clearly desires to be loved the way Seung Joon loved her, this is quite a cruel fate. The shaman predicts that she will be successful and therefore won’t need a man in the future.. but I also think that Seung Joon’s just too hard of an act to follow. After Seung Joon’s literally died for her, I think any other man would pale in comparison, for Dan. We see that Dan eventually stands tall and walks forward confidently, but my heart still aches for her loss.
On the other hand, though, in a show where logic has been stretched so much for the benefit of bringing the feels, Seung Joon could’ve been given a way to survive in North Korea, no? So that he and Dan would be able to live happily ever after, together, with him always being goofy-smitten around her, causing her to crack a smile, for him, in spite of herself? Show could’ve still served up all the bittersweet poignance of episode 15, including Seung Joon’s lost pulse in the ambulance. But the medic could’ve applied CPR (instead of just declaring him dead after checking his pulse), or heck, we could’ve had Dan perform CPR if the medic didn’t know how; we could’ve then had Seung Joon revived and saved.. maybe have him settle down in North Korea to be with Dan? I know it wouldn’t have left as great an impact on us as Seung Joon’s sacrificial death, but.. I’m pretty sure I would’ve lapped that up, if that was what Show was serving.
As for Jung Hyuk and Se Ri, I have to admit that I actually teared up at their goodbye scene at the Military Demarcation Line. The tearful, desperate embrace, as they grasped for words to say to each other that would feel adequate; both unable to tear their eyes away from each other; the NIS agents and the North Korean Army both on alert, with weapons cocked; it’s a moment pregnant with tension and emotion and the impending pain of inevitable separation, and I feel like I’m right there with them, tears leaking as Jung Hyuk gets pried away from Se Ri. Oof.
And then there’s moment when the Military Director ambushes Jung Hyuk and the boys and tries to kill them off before they get to their Pyongyang destination. As guns are raised, dear old Man Bok runs to place himself in front of Jung Hyuk as a human shield. Dad comes to the rescue, and as shots are fired, it moves me deeply, that all the boys basically spring into a protective formation around Jung Hyuk. Their collective instinct was to shield him, with their very own bodies. Augh. The brotherhood. I love.
Afterwards, we see everyone’s lives go back to a variation of normal. Se Hyung getting incarcerated and filing for divorce; the Puppies reminiscing about South Korea and Se Ri, as they sit together eating roasted potatoes; Se Ri going back to work; Se Ri spending time with Mom; Dan’s mother breaking off the engagement between Dan and Jung Hyuk, with gentleness, grace and dignity; Dan’s mother bringing the village ahjummas new limited edition products by Se Ri’s Choice, which are a line of creams with paintings of each of the ahjummas adorning each cream (aw!); the village ahjummas getting dolled up to welcome Jung Hyuk back to the village after another outpost stint; Pyo Chi Soo getting promoted to Captain and taking over from Jung Hyuk, as he gets re-deployed to be a pianist for the National Symphony Orchestra. Life’s the same but different, and it’s gentle and bittersweet.
What’s special in all of this, is that we see Se Ri receiving pre-sent text messages from Jung Hyuk (thank you, sweet NIS dude, you really are the best); every few days, he tells her something interesting, or suggests something they can do together, even sending her a pot of edelweiss to raise. It’s really sweet, coz it feels like they’re having long distance dates, even though they technically can’t contact each other.
When the messages run out, Jung Hyuk’s last message suggests that they meet where the edelweiss blooms, which is how Se Ri ends up orchestrating yearly performances in Switzerland, by music proteges supported by the company, in the hope of meeting Jung Hyuk there. It takes a number of failed trips, but one day, Jung Hyuk finally finds her, appropriately under her paraglider wing, after she’s made a bit of a clumsy landing. Pfft. This is a bit much, for me, coz it’s so random. Did they really have to meet while she was paragliding? But ok, I get the point that they really are fated, and that it’s true that wherever she is, Jung Hyuk will always find her.
We then see that Se Ri arranges to spend 2 weeks in Switzerland every year during the performances, and that’s when she meets Jung Hyuk. As Show comes to a close, we also see that they even have a home there, filled with their pictures and their memories.
It’s a bittersweet yet hopeful note that we end on. Bittersweet, because it still pains me to think that Se Ri can’t see the ahjummas or the boys. How sad, that they can’t even contact one another to ask after one another.
It’s also bittersweet that Se Ri and Jung Hyuk can only see each other 2 weeks in a year, despite even getting a house together in Switzerland. Yet, it’s hopeful because even though they only get 2 weeks together each year, this is still ultimately much more than they’d dared to hope for, when they fell in love with each other. They’d thought their goodbye at the Military Demarcation Line was for good, and they had always been steeling themselves for a forever goodbye. So, to have the chance to spend 2 weeks every single year, with the person whom you thought you’d had to say a forever goodbye to, feels like an annual precious second chance.
And with this annual second chance, perhaps our lovebirds will eventually even be able to make bigger and longer plans for a shared future. Yes, that future is even more vague than it is for the average couple, but perhaps that very uncertainty is what spurs them on to cherish what they have together in the present moment, all the more.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A little overly bloated and angsty in spots, but Show sure knows how to serve up the feels.
FINAL GRADE: B++