If you’re a fan of this show, let me apologize in advance; I.. did not end up loving this one.
I mean, I did like this one at first, and quite a lot too, and that’s why I kept on watching. Sadly, though, try as I might, I didn’t manage to sustain my initial good feelings towards this show. It’s taken me the entire series to come to a conclusion as to exactly why this one didn’t work for me, which I’ll tell you about shortly.
So.. at least I tried, and at least I learned something from it? 😅
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review. I do have to say that the OST is very pleasant. It’s mostly populated with moodsy ballads that I enjoyed quite well. I’d count the soundtrack as one of the plus points of my watch.
PROMISING EARLY BEGINNINGS
Like I mentioned earlier, I really liked Show’s early episodes. In particular, I found episode 1 very enjoyable, like an oxymoronic quiet rollercoaster, with burgeoning feels that lean melancholic, but with sparky lashings that hint of electric promise.
Show presents two timelines interspersed, one of the past, where our young leads Jae Hyun and Ji Soo (Park Jin Young and Jeon So Nee) are passionate and idealistic about fighting for a better world, and one of the present, where their adult counterparts (Yoo Ji Tae and Lee Bo Young) live very differently from what they each imagined.
The contrast between our leads’ brighter, younger selves, and their present, more jaded selves, is quite stark, and that in itself carries a kind of pathos, knowing that these young people’s lives didn’t turn out at all like they’d expected. I found it all quite poignant and thought-provoking.
Even though Show lays on the idea of destiny pretty thick, I liked the way Show brings present day Jae Hyun and Ji Soo back into each other’s orbits, and found the way everything was executed, nicely affecting. I legit had a lump in my throat by the time I reached the end of episode 1.
The moment that gets me the most this first hour, is the burgeoning emotion – particularly in Jae Hyun – as the two of them finally come face to face at the train tracks. It literally looks like years of repressed emotion is finally finding a small channel of release, and all the feelings – hope, affection, yearning, wondering, regret – are finally rising to the surface and finding expression in the tears that well up in Jae Hyun’s eyes. I find Jae Hyun’s reaction in this moment most affecting. Ji Soo reacts with significant emotion too, and from her eyes, I can feel that there is much contained in those tears that remain unspoken. But it’s Jae Hyun’s response that really grabs me by the heart.
The imagery in the moment is not lost on me; their younger selves, as they stand and face each other, are rained on by cherry blossoms, as they stand in the sunny Spring warmth, and here, in the present, as they face each other again, they are rained on by snow, as they stand in the dark, cold wintry night. It’s not very subtle, but it’s quite poetic. I rather like it.
I also liked that Jae Hyun can recognize Ji Soo through her piano playing. That feels true to me, because the way someone plays, is like a voice; an extension of themselves. I can believe that he’d respond to that. I also like the detail, that he recognized her voice right away. These are things that stay true over time, and I like the idea that he never forgot what she sounded like, whether on the piano, or in her voice.
Generally speaking, I also enjoyed the way Show intersplices the backstory with our present day story, instead of presenting us with just one at a time. This made our story feel like a journey of discovery, as layers of meaning get unveiled and peeled back.
Lastly, on a shallow note, I very much enjoyed just having Yoo Ji Tae on my screen; he’s possibly even schmexier than I remembered. 🤩
WHY THIS ONE TURNED OUT TO BE FUNDAMENTALLY PROBLEMATIC FOR ME [SPOILERS]
Before I talk about why Show didn’t work for me, let me just state for the record, that there are people who genuinely love this show. No shade on anyone; I do think that this is a case of individual context.
Show is pretty clear in its positioning of Jae Hyun and Ji Soo’s connection as one of Destined Big Love, and Show’s hook, is that this Destined Big Love has to surmount many obstacles, in order to prevail.
Basically, Show’s message is that Jae Hyun has lost his way (and his love), and him reconnecting with Ji Soo is presented as him making his way back to a destiny that he’d lost. Therefore, everything in his life – his marriage, his work ethic, and his mindset – is all a mistake, and he’s doing what’s needful, to make the wrong right, in his life.
Jae Hyun’s marriage
I get the idea that Jae Hyun’s marriage is a mistake, and he needs to find his way back to Ji Soo in order to be happy, but I conclude that the way that Show goes about executing this idea doesn’t sit well with me.
My problem with this is that Jae Hyun is married, and not only that, his marriage isn’t even one of those “pure business arrangement” type of things. In fact, Show takes pains to show us via flashback how his heart had softened towards his wife Seo Kyung (Park Si Yeon). Plus, through pretty much our entire story, Seo Kyung nurses real feelings for Jae Hyun, which, for me, makes it even harder to deal with Jae Hyun’s feelings for Ji Soo. Granted, Seo Kyung is a problematic character who doesn’t really know how to love, but she does love Jae Hyun, in her limited and misinformed capacity. And, in our final episode, Jae Hyun is shown telling Seo Kyung that he hadn’t married her purely out of pity, that she’d made him smile, and he’d hoped that, with time and effort, love would grow.
The fact that this marriage was rooted in sincere intention is one of the big problems I have with our premise. If there had been any kind of sincerity in how the marriage started, then it makes sense to me that a similar kind of sincerity be accorded to the marriage, in ending it. And, it’s problematic to my eyes, that Jae Hyun starts pursuing Ji Soo, while still married to Seo Kyung.
In contrast, I had no issue with the infidelity portrayed in Secret Love Affair. In Secret Love Affair, Hye Won does cheat on her husband, but it’s clear that their marriage is nothing but a business arrangement and there are no feelings involved. In my head, if the marriage is a business arrangement with no feelings involved, then Hye Won doesn’t need to feel guilty towards her husband, because she continues to uphold her end of the business bargain, even though she invests her feelings elsewhere.
Ji Soo’s character trajectory
It took me some time to figure this out, but there’s a secondary layer of our story that bothered me as well.
In recent drama Love Affairs in the Afternoon, which I didn’t watch, but which my friend Michele did, I understand that there’s a character who we meet in episode 1, who regularly cheats on her husband without a shred of remorse. She basically doesn’t feel any guilt about anything or towards anyone, and it’s only when she meets her soulmate that she starts to want something different and does something about it; in this case, she divorces her husband to be with said soulmate.
In contrast, in this show, Ji Soo is the one character who’s presented as never having changed since the time we meet in her in her college days. Even when Jae Hyun decides to become a different person, she stays the same, and continues to stand by her beliefs and live according to her principles, even at high cost to herself. And so, to have Ji Soo then make the decision to be with Jae Hyun in episode 12, effectively making her and Jae Hyun adulterers, it just doesn’t sit right, for me. To my eyes, this didn’t feel like progress (which is something we expect, especially as late as episode 12); it felt like she’d compromised on her values, and this niggled at me, making my watch experience even more uncomfortable than it already was.
What would’ve made it work better for me
I asked myself what would’ve made this story work for me, and it essentially boils down to these two options.
1. Make Jae Hyun’s marriage to Seo Kyung a business arrangement to begin with, so that there are no emotions involved; or
2. Have Jae Hyun sort out his marriage issues and get that divorce, before being with Ji Soo. This could be driven by either Jae Hyun or Ji Soo; I think I’d be ok with it either way.
Some people might say that this is old fashioned thinking, but this is an old fashioned story in the spirit of classic Hallyu, so I figure that this “old fashioned thinking” meshes nicely.
OTHER THINGS THAT DIDN’T HELP
Aside from my main issue with Show, there were other things in the mix that just didn’t help. Here they are, for the record.
Show gets heavy-handed
I admit that in the beginning, I rather enjoyed Show’s use of parallels between the past and the present, and I also didn’t mind the way Show emphasized the idea of destiny. By Show’s mid-point, however, this all started to feel very heavy-handed, to my eyes. There’s such a thing as too much of a good thing, and I do think Show went there.
It seems that in this show, everything has to have a parallel. Here are some examples from episode 8: [MINOR SPOILERS] Besides the mirrored conversation between Jae Hyun and Se Hoon, and Ji Soo and Seo Kyung, we have mirrored plants, and mirrored meet-ups in the church. [END SPOILERS]
In the beginning of the show, these parallels between the past and present had seemed poetic, but honestly, Show inserts parallels into every single episode. More than one, in each episode. I felt like, 1, Show was hitting me on the head with this, and 2, Show didn’t have more than this one trick.
Everyone tries to interfere with Ji Soo’s life
By Show’s mid-point, every man in Ji Soo’s life has tried or is trying to interfere with how she lives her life. Her father (Jang Kwang), her ex-husband Se Hoon (Kim Young Hoon), ex-schoolmate Young Woo (Lee Tae Sung) who’s had a crush on her for yeeaarss, and Jae Hyun too.
Their reasons differ; some are more benevolent than others, but the core remains the same: they are interfering with her life, despite her (mostly mild) resistance, for her own good. Sigh. Not appealing at all, really.
The angst won’t die, and it doesn’t pop either
The angst in this show feels very old school, like melodramas from the early days of Hallyu. The whole premise, about star-crossed lovers who continually face obstacles to their love, whether in the past or in the present, smacks of Classic Hallyu. Some people would find it romantic, because the love in question endures everything and never dies, despite the multiple efforts from all sides, to snuff it out. But, I gotta say, the never-ending angst, where everything that could go wrong, did, was not fun to watch.
The reason for this, and the bigger problem for me, is that despite Show trying to mimic the appeal of old school, classic Hallyu, somehow, Show only manages to feel old school in form; it doesn’t seem to manage to capture the soul of old school Hallyu dramas. All of the angst feels quite hollow to me; it doesn’t land with much weight, nor does it pop with much life. Bummer.
Show is an angsty sloth
Like I mentioned above, it consistently feels like Show is always amping up the angst like there’s no tomorrow, and trying to squeeze as much emotional turmoil and pain as possible, into its story. In that sense, it feels like Show’s on angst steroids. BUT, it also feels like Show is, at its heart, a sloth.
Even amped up on angst steroids, Show still crawls at an unbelievably slow pace. I found it hard-going, getting through the middle and late episodes, because everything felt so excruciatingly slow. And, it felt like we weren’t really getting anywhere either, most of the time.
You must be wondering by now, what kept me going, if there were so many things that didn’t work for me, in this show? Here’s a quick look at my silver linings.
Jin Young and Jeon So Nee as our young OTP
I very much enjoyed Jin Young and Jeon So Nee as our younger OTP.
I thought both of them were very well cast. Not only do they kinda-sorta look like their older adult counterparts, I felt that both of them managed to deliver very similar vibes to their older counterparts as well, and this made it easy for me to believe that I was watching the same characters, just at different life stages.
Additionally, a lot of the early flashbacks, around how Jae Hyun and Ji Soo first get to know each other, lean sweet, with dashes of cute. This gave a nice amount of balance to the adult melancholy, at least in Show’s first half. In Show’s second half, there’s angst in both timelines, so although the angst makes narrative sense, the balance is kinda lost in Show’s second half, unfortunately.
Yoo Ji Tae and Lee Bo Young as our adult OTP
Even though I often didn’t enjoy Show’s execution of Jae Hyun and Ji Soo’s arc, I did appreciate both actors’ performances.
Yoo Ji Tae and Lee Bo Young are two of my big reasons for being interested to check out this drama in the first place. Both of them are excellent actors, and I think that they both do a great job with the material that they’re given, in this show. Plus, on a shallow note, I do find Yoo Ji Tae quite lovely to look at, heh.
As characters, I did find the idea behind Jae Hyun and Ji Soo’s characters interesting and thought-provoking.
Ji Soo’s lived by her ideals, at a great price, while Jae Hyun’s abandoned his ideals, also at a great price. I found it intriguing to think that neither of them are living happy lives, despite their very different choices.
I also found the idea of them revisiting their past, and thereby re-evaluating their present and their future, an interesting one, and in principle, I did want them to find their way to a life path that made them truly happy and fulfilled.
Kang Young Seok as Secretary Kang
My one consistent bright spot during my watch, was Secretary Kang.
He’s upbeat, cheery and loyal, and when he’s happy, I don’t automatically feel an accompanying sense of dread that something is going to go wrong soon – which is how I mostly felt, when Show depicted any of our main characters being happy.
On top of that, he’s sometimes quite funny as well. [MINOR SPOILER] I loved the scene in episode 6, when he gives the bicycle to Ji Soo, under Jae Hyun’s orders. He feels cornered and stressed by Ji Soo’s reluctance to accept it, and the way he begs Ji Soo to take it before literally running away, is really quite cute and amusing. [END SPOILER]
WHO MIGHT LIKE THIS
Despite everything that I’ve said to the effect that I just did not enjoy this one, I just wanted to reiterate that this show has its fans, and so, just because I didn’t like it, doesn’t mean that you won’t like it either.
I think you might like this show if:
1. You like / are in the mood for old-school style melodramatic angst;
2. You aren’t fussed about the fact that our male lead is married when he starts pursuing our female lead;
3. You’re in the mood for something slow and atmospheric;
4. You like / don’t mind lots of symbolism and parallels between your timelines;
5. You like / don’t mind the heavy-handed execution of the idea of a Big Destined Love;
6. You’re a fan of the leads and just want to see them on your screen.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
To be brutally honest with you guys, I didn’t love this finale, even though Show serves up lots of happy milestones in our final hour.
Basically, it seems to me that our angsty sloth of a show took some magic potion, and for this finale, behaved like a happy woodpecker on steroids, who had a list of happy plot points to accomplish, before the closing credits.
Here is said list:
1. The EGM where Chairman Dad and Seo Kyung are dismissed from their positions, and Jae Hyun resigns;
2. Chairman Dad and his minions facing trial for their evil deeds and going to jail;
3. Seo Kyung granting Jae Hyun’s divorce petition;
4. Clarity on why Jae Hyun had married Seo Kyung (she’d made him smile, and he’d hoped to love her, with time and effort);
5. Se Hoon feels so guilty for being forgiven for his misdeeds, that he turns over a new leaf;
6. Se Hoon vows to be a better father to Young Min;
7. Jae Hyun makes peace with Joon Seo;
8. Jae Hyun gathers the gang and celebrates Ji Soo’s birthday, and Ji Soo sees her mother and sister waving to her in her dreams, thus helping Ji Soo get over her birthday trauma;
9. A flashback showing us that Jae Hyun had actually noticed Ji Soo first, and liked her first;
10. Jae Hyun and Ji Soo finally have a long walk that vibes happy instead of sad;
11. Ji Soo does well with her piano studio, and in school too, where she zooms through her undergrad studies to become a graduate student – and gets a reputation for being the belle of her batch, no less;
12. Jae Hyun pours himself into doing charity work, with Secretary Kang still by his side;
13. Young Woo meets a girl at the park, where she seems to fall for him right away.
It’s.. a lot, to fit into an hour, and Show is relentless in serving up the happy milestones, to the point where it feels like Show is trying to make up for 15 episodes worth of angst in a single finale.
It all feels overly neat to my eyes, with a lot of scene transitions &/or plot points being interwoven in the name of coincidence. Like how Dong Jin is seen exiting the courthouse after a case, for example, only to see Se Hoon doing pro bono work with a divorce client, and telling her that he doesn’t deserve the thanks she gives him, because he’s sinned too much. Pretty heavy-handed, yes? Coz, coincidence. And also, who talks to a client like that?
On top of it all, Show does two more things which I don’t personally care for.
The first one is how Show has our younger and older OTP characters face each other, and tell each other that they’ve done well. Now, I get the metaphor, and I appreciate the sentiment of having older Ji Soo and Jae Hyun make peace with their younger selves. But some metaphors really don’t benefit from being expanded and extended, and so, I felt it was overkill, to have both sets of the OTP walking along the same path, chatting with one another as if they’re on some kind of double date. This was rather too weird, for me.
The second thing is, I was not pleased with how Show tries to go for a clever twist, by showing us flashbacks indicating that Jae Hyun had noticed Ji Soo first, and liked her first. This was problematic and completely unnecessary, to my eyes.
The main reason I find it problematic, is because we’ve seen how aloof, distant and cold Jae Hyun had been, when Ji Soo approached him in school. Granted, it had taken Ji Soo time and effort, but Jae Hyun had eventually fallen for her, and when he did fall for her, he fell hard. We’ve seen multiple flashbacks attesting to that. To me, that’s more than enough to balance out the fact that she’d had to pursue him so much, to begin with, and convince me that they liked each other equally.
And yet, now Show is trying to tell me that while Jae Hyun had been treating her with disdain and coldness, he’d actually liked her? That doesn’t add up. And then, Show wants me to believe that even after they’d started dating, he’d never told her that he’d liked her to begin with? That feels withholding and messed up, and makes me think poorly of Jae Hyun. I personally think Show should’ve left well enough alone. A flashback to their youthful romance as a note on which to end our story is fine; just don’t try to make it into a clever twist, because that does more harm than good, from where I’m standing.
Ultimately, I have to admit that I’m quite disappointed and underwhelmed by this show. I guess I’m not part of Show’s target audience, after all. Oh well. But at least Jae Hyun and Ji Soo’s long walks will now be happy, contented walks instead of sad and melancholic walks..?
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Starts well and ends happy, but is, in essence, very angsty and very slow, and – in my opinion anyway – possesses a problematic premise, to boot.
FINAL GRADE: C+