Review: Lie After Lie

THE SHORT VERDICT:

A makjang-laced story that leans rather old-school in its storytelling sensibility and melodramatic flair, Lie After Lie works out to be a pretty good time.

When Show is at its best, it’s cracky and delicious, and I felt like I could slurp up all that heightened dramatic tension with a spoon. This is just the kind of underdog story to get my blood pumping, and I was very quickly sucked into rooting for our protagonist Eun Soo. When Show isn’t at its best, however, there are logic lapses, weak plot progression and a resulting loss in dramatic tension. Boo. I was sad when Show wasn’t great, because when it was good, it was really quite excellent.

Show is admittedly stronger in its first three-quarters and weaker in its final stretch, but overall, I’d still call this a solid watch.

THE LONG VERDICT:

I must’ve been in the mood for some intense, makjang-laced melo, because I got sucked into this one right away. Like, within mere minutes of pressing play. That’s no mean feat, honestly. Kudos to Show for starting so strong.

With makjang, it’s a little bit tricky, for me, because I like my makjang levels just so. Too makjang, and it becomes too much to deal with (this is why I’m not super likely to watch Penthouse; it looks too intense and shouty). Not makjang enough, and I start to feel bored, like with Graceful Family. I like it if it’s either (a) OTT and hammy like in The Last Empress, or (b) intensely makjang enough to provide some nice shock value and suck me in, without being too much or too little. I know. I feel like Baby Bear and his porridge, ha.

My point is, I really like the makjang levels in this show. This show reminds me of Fates and Furies – when Fates and Furies was good. The mix of heightened drama with a good amount of heart, and a sizable dollop of simmering attraction, makes for a very good watch experience. Although Show kind of loses its grip in its last lap, rather similarly to Fates and Furies, I am quite happy to say that overall, Show managed to be a more solidly satisfying watch compared to Fates and Furies. That’s not bad?

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. More than the vocal tracks, though, I thought the instrumental pieces did a lot to amp up the tension and the thrills of my watch. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find those on YouTube to share. Those violin arpeggios were pretty great, though. (If ya know, ya know 😉)

I found the vocal tracks serviceable and pleasant, although I can’t say that any jumped out at me or affected me in a particularly special way. If I had to pick a favorite, I do quite like Track 2, “Lie After Lie.” There’s a poignant sweetness to it that appeals to me.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS & LENS ADJUSTMENT

Here are a couple of things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of this show.

1. At its heart, Show’s more of a soapy makjang than a straight-up melodrama. Keeping your makjang lens handy, ready to snap on at a moment’s notice, helps.

2. Show is a little rough around the edges, due to its low budget. It helps not to let these rough edges bother you. They mostly don’t show up too much, I think.

3. Logic can get stretched. Keeping a slightly blurry analytical lens on definitely helps. If you’re able to do that, you’re more likely to be able to appreciate Show’s cracky flavor, which I found quite delicious.

4. Show shifts focus for a bit, in its last quarter. Knowing this in advance helps you to roll with the punches.

STUFF I LIKED

Lee Yoo Ri as Eun Soo

After seeing Lee Yoo Ri’s fantastic turn in Father Is Strange, I was really pleased to have her back on my screen again.

I’ll admit that I was kinda hoping for more of the same larger-than-life confidence and sparkle that Lee Yoo Ri shows in Father Is Strange, but Eun Soo turns out to be a very different character indeed. Rather than the flamboyance that her character typifies in Father Is Strange, Lee Yoo Ri shows us a different, more restrained sort of strength, in the character of Eun Soo.

I realized fairly early into my watch, that Eun Soo is a classic antihero. She fits perfectly into the mold: she’s planning to do something manipulative and wrong, but in mitigation, she’s been wronged in so many ways, that it almost cancels out the wrong that she’s planning to commit.

[MINOR HIGH-LEVEL SPOILERS] And her motive is all about wanting to be near her daughter again; she’s not in this to con Ji Min (Yeon Jung Hoon) out of money, or do anything bad to him. So even though I know in my head that it’s not right for Eun Soo to lie and try to win Ji Min’s heart in order to be Woo Joo’s (Go Ha Nee) stepmother, [END SPOILER] I can’t help rooting for her. That is the mark of a good antihero. You just can’t help but want to root for them, even though you know they’re not quite above-board. And I definitely rooted for Eun Soo, from beginning to end.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. I feel for Eun Soo, right away. It feels like she was innocently living her life and enjoying her work, until the VP (Song Jae Hee) finds himself charmed by her and sets about flirting with her. In what feels like the twinkling of an eye, she finds herself stuck in an abusive marriage, and when she discovers her pregnancy, she decides to run away, only to be tracked down by her violent husband. And then suddenly, she finds herself framed for his murder and thrown into jail, with her every effort to seek justice, mysteriously and efficiently blocked. This is just the sort of thing to grab my sympathies, and fast. I’m already rooting so hard, for Eun Soo, to find her way back to her daughter, who was literally forced out of her hands.

E2. The labyrinth that Eun Soo has to fight her way through this episode, in order to find her daughter, is exhausting. From bulldozing her way through Chairman Kim’s (Lee Il Hwa) guards in order to gain an audience, to sustaining a head injury when she gets unceremoniously thrown against the house gate pillar, to looking for information on Secretary Yoon (Lee Won Jong), to staking out his restaurant, to trailing him to the hospital, to lying in wait for Chairman Kim at the cemetery, Eun Soo forces herself to go through it all.

E3. Eun Soo’s decision to leave, even though she dearly wants to spend time with her daughter, is an expression of a mother’s love. Her consideration for her daughter is greater than her consideration for her own needs. This moves me.

E4. Eun Soo’s sacrificial attitude towards Woo Joo really does touch my heart. When Ji Min first asks that Eun Soo have a meal with him and Woo Joo, I’m actually surprised that she declines at first, before asking tentatively if she really can do that. At this point, it seems that she’s already removed herself from Woo Joo’s life, and doesn’t think she has the right to spend time with her or see her, even at the invitation of Ji Min.

And then, Eun Soo goes to so much trouble so that Woo Joo will have a beautiful last memory of her, even though Woo Joo has no idea that this last memory has the significance that it does. It’s really sweet to see her spending time with Woo Joo, doing mom type things like putting flowers in her hair and teaching her how to draw ketchup hearts. I can practically feel through my screen, just how precious this all is, to Eun Soo. 😭

E7. This episode, we see how traumatized Eun Soo still is, by the memory of her late husband. I can’t help but feel for her, as she relives the terror of his intimidation and abuse. It’s telling that just being in the building where he used to work, causes her to hallucinate and eventually pass out. This definitely increases my sympathy for her. She really never asked for this kind of life; she just married the wrong man.

E10. I feel so sorry for Eun Soo; not only does she now have no way of being near Woo Joo, she’s also lost Ji Min’s trust. From our last scene, it sounds like Eun Soo’s decided to leave. I’m guessing that this is her way of keeping Woo Joo safe, because if she’s not there to provoke Chairman Kim, maybe Chairman Kim will leave Woo Joo alone.

E13. How quick-thinking of Eun Soo, to grab Chairman Kim’s hair, so that she can use it for a DNA test.

[END SPOILER]

Yeon Jung Hoon as Ji Min

It’s been forever since I enjoyed Yeon Jung Hoon in Vampire Prosecutor, so I was very pleased to have him back on my screen.

All in all, I really liked his character Ji Min. Not only does Ji Min have a nose for the truth as a reporter, he’s also a genuinely decent and good man – both very important things for our protagonist Eun Soo. And, he’s such a great dad too. I honestly couldn’t help growing a soft spot for Ji Min, and relatively quickly at that.

I’ll talk more about Ji Min in the section on our OTP, but for now, here are a few initial observations early on in the show, which convinced me of Ji Min’s good guy cred.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. The way Ji Min picks up the photograph that Eun Soo dropped, and then stays on the alert for a way to give it back to her, shows what a decent guy he is. Plus, there’s how happy he looks, when he realizes that he’s found his chance to return the photograph to its owner.

E2. I must say that Ji Min seems like a really good dad. It sounds like he’s made a career choice to cover cultural stories instead of more time-sensitive investigative stories, in order to make time for his daughter. Plus, there’s the way he personally takes Woo Joo to school every day and picks her up as well, brings her snacks at night, and makes time to take her to the park. He sounds like a dream dad so far, and I already like him a lot.

E2. Ji Min’s sharp observations, which he often voices in his passive-aggressive oh-so-casual way, are also becoming a highlight of my watch. He clearly doesn’t buy into the koolaid that Chairman Kim is selling at the press conference, and he makes only a thinly veiled attempt to smooth things over. I can’t wait for him to start sniffing around Eun Soo’s case again, coz I think Chairman Kim will find that it’s not so easy to shut him up and throw him off the case after all. There’s a won’t-be-cowed, fearless quality about Ji Min that I really like.

[END SPOILER]

Lee Il Hwa as Chairman Kim

This is my first time seeing Lee Il Hwa in a villainous sort of role, and I must say, she kept me quite riveted.

Before this show, I’d kept thinking of her as the mom in the Reply dramas, and in those shows, she’s always sweet, selfless and caring, and always dressed in very plain, humble clothes. Here, she’s the complete opposite. She’s coiffed, elegant and altogether glossy, AND, she’s scheming, condescending and manipulative. And rich and powerful too. I love it. It’s such a refreshing new look on her, and I’m quite thrilled at her intimidating aura.

I do think that Lee Il Hwa makes Chairman Kim quite a delicious villain; she helps to keep the stakes amped up through most of our story, always ready to nudge our characters into angsty, uncertain territory. Without her, Show would have been much tamer – and much more uninteresting, I’m sure.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. Chairman Kim is appallingly manipulative and cold. The way she’d told Eun Soo, all weepy-eyed, that she wanted to take care of her granddaughter because the baby was her only blood relative left, had been so convincingly sincere. It’s shocking to realize that she’d deliberately put on a show, in order to get the baby out of Eun Soo’s hands. This woman will go to great lengths in order to get what she wants, that’s for sure.

E3. Chairman Kim may be cold and cruel, but when she points out to Eun Soo that it would be hardship for Eun Soo’s daughter – if she were alive – to be a murderer’s daughter, she strikes a chord with Eun Soo. It is true that Eun Soo doesn’t have the means to give her daughter a good life, and it is also true that if her daughter had to deal with gossip around having a murderer for a mom, it would be seriously harsh. Chairman Kim is so smart and so sly.

E4. Chairman Kim is a very sharp woman. She’s very right to say that there’s something fishy about the way Eun Soo’s fallen off the radar, after trying to kill her once.

E6. Chairman Kim is sharper and more suspicious than Secretary Yoon gives her credit for. She’s already getting very suspicious of the fact that Eun Soo spends time with Ji Min and Woo Joo. Yikes. I can already feel her getting her hands on the truth, and I’m nervous for Eun Soo, in terms of what she might do, to get in Eun Soo’s way. After all, Chairman Kim has proven that she’s willing to go to great lengths, to punish Eun Soo for the death of her son. Even though Eun Soo tells her that she’s decided to live well as her revenge, I don’t know if Chairman Kim buys it. Eep.

E8. Eek. Chairman Kim is on to Secretary Yoon and his lie about having thrown Eun Soo’s daughter into the lake. And, she knows that Woo Joo is Eun Soo’s daughter, too. Gulp. This is only going to cause more complications, that’s for sure.

I’d wondered what Chairman Kim would do with that information, but it looks like she’s not one to get her own hands dirty. The way she primes Se Mi (Im Joo Eun) to be the hand that actively interferes with Ji Min’s budding relationship with Eun Soo is terrible but admittedly very smart. Maximum damage with minimal effort is absolutely what Chairman Kim wants, and so far, it looks like she’s on track for it. Eep.

E9. Chairman Kim is so villainous. Is she literally asking Secretary Yoon to kill Woo Joo now, because he’d failed to do so when she was a baby? That’s terrible. What’s worse, she holds Secretary Yoon’s comatose son hostage, basically threatening to kill him, if Secretary Yoon doesn’t do her bidding. The fact that Chairman Kim seems to have a penchant for holding people’s children against them makes her feel like an evil witch who would eat those children.

E10. Chairman Kim is technically correct to say that if Eun Soo hadn’t sought him out, Secretary Yoon would have probably lived. I hate the way that Chairman Kim is trying to poison Eun Soo’s mind, saying that Eun Soo is unlucky, and the people who are associated with her end up dying. UGH. I hate that there’s a twisted truth to her words, but to be fair, those words wouldn’t be true if Chairman Kim herself weren’t out to sabotage Eun Soo.

E11. Chairman Kim is going claws-out, now that Ji Min’s essentially threatened to investigate and expose her. Clearly, she has something damning to hide. Also, she’s definitely raising the stakes, with announcing on live television that her granddaughter is alive. Yikes. With public sympathy in her favor, this is only going to make thing so much more complicated for Ji Min. Would he be pressured to give up Woo Joo?

E13. There’s a reveal this episode, that Chairman Kim is probably not her son’s biological mother. What..? Is Show trying to hint that Chairman Kim might be the mastermind behind the murder..? Because if that’s the case, then she plotted to have her son killed, and chose Eun Soo as her scapegoat, and then proceeds to torture her for literal years, just to demonstrate her motherly attachment, so that there would be no suspicion on her? That’s.. mindbogglingly cold, cruel and insane.

I wouldn’t put it past Chairman Kim, though. I mean, when she hears that Woo Joo is seriously ill, she takes the trouble to go to Eun Soo’s apartment, just to gloat. UGH. That’s just disgusting. And also, Chairman Kim thoroughly deserved that throttling that Eun Soo gave her. Who goes to someone’s house to gloat over their possibly dying child? UGH.

[END SPOILER]

Go Na Hee as Woo Joo

I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to Go Na Hee. I found her sweet and winsome as Woo Joo, and while she doesn’t show as much range as some of the more impressive child actors out there, I think she does a solidly nice job of her role as Woo Joo.

The connection between Ji Min and Eun Soo

Not gonna lie; this loveline was one of the biggest highlights of my watch. Our story’s entire premise is built around this: how will Eun Soo win Ji Min’s heart, so that she will be able to marry him and become her biological daughter’s stepmother?

It’s a mash-up of two genres, in a way: the best of the heady flush of romance and falling in love, laced with a good amount of cracky makjang. I actually rather loved it.

On the downside, this loveline takes a backseat in Show’s last quarter, while Show switches its focus to circumstances to do with Woo Joo. I found this switch a little whiplashy, and I missed having some proper focus on the development of the OTP relationship. As a silver lining, Show does come back to give this relationship some love.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. Right now, Ji Min is deeply suspicious of Eun Soo, and has accused her of kidnapping Woo Joo. Even if Eun Soo gets cleared of kidnapping charges, it does seem like quite a leap, to get Ji Min to not only trust her, but start to like her. I’m very curious to see how Show manages that.

E4. Show turns things around quite nicely, with Eun Soo behaving with restraint and concern for Woo Joo, even when she’s severely misunderstood, not only by Ji Min but also by the police. Eventually, it only makes sense that Ji Min feels awful for misunderstanding her. After all, she’d saved Woo Joo by carrying her to the hospital and getting her treated when she’d collapsed from an asthma attack.

Also, the way Eun Soo looks at Woo Joo with such wistful appreciation in her eyes, it’s easy to believe that she really is drawn to Woo Joo because Woo Joo reminds her of her own daughter. It’s important to note that all of this is rooted in complete sincerity. It isn’t until after the camping trip is over, that Eun Soo even entertains the idea of wanting to stay in Seoul.

I appreciate that when Ji Min realizes the mistake he’s made, he wastes no time running to Eun Soo and apologizing to her. He might’ve been very brusque with her when he’d thought she was a shady possible kidnapper, but the way he apologizes is really gentle and genial, and he doesn’t try to shift the blame either. I like that.

I also like the way Ji Min lowers his guard around Eun Soo. At the pochangmacha and also during the camping trip, he opens up to Eun Soo and tells her that he’s not a great dad, and that he’d gotten divorced. I’m sure that in itself is something that Ji Min’s colleagues would tease him about, so I do think that there might be something there already, in terms of him softening towards Eun Soo. Not gonna lie; I do think Ji Min and Eun Soo would make a good couple – y’know, minus all the lies and manipulation that we’re about to see.

Now that Eun Soo’s “seduction plan” is put into motion, I’m really eager to see how it unfolds.

E5. It occurs to me that even though Show is taking some pains to make Eun Soo’s seduction plan look devious, like what it does with that epilogue, showing us that Eun Soo had told the bus driver to leave without her, even though he’d offered to wait, I can’t seem to see Eun Soo’s plan as ominous.

Usually, there’s dark intent behind a plan that’s devious, so someone might pretend to be something they’re not, in order to get close to someone, in order to hurt them in some way, or kill them. Admittedly, Eun Soo’s plan does involve using Ji Min, but there’s also something plaintive about her plan, like, let me get close to you please, so that I can love and take care of you and your daughter. And because Eun Soo really does long for Woo Joo very deeply, and also because she really does seem genuinely lonely, I feel like there’s sincerity in her intentions, and that makes me want to root for her, even when Show’s trying to nudge me otherwise.

Eun Soo’s efforts to get close to Ji Min this episode do require her to snoop and plan, but there’s also a fair amount of sincerity in the things that she says to him. When she talks about living a harsh life where she’d had to beg the people around her to believe her, to no avail, that was truth. She’s not exactly making up a lot of stuff, in her conversations with Ji Min, though she is definitely keeping certain things out of his view.

At the same time, there is a good amount of genuine coincidence at play. For instance, Eun Soo couldn’t have predicted that Woo Joo would actually be asking for art lessons, at the time that she passes the drawing to Ji Min to give to Woo Joo. At times like this, it feels like the powers that be are helping Eun Soo, over and above her own efforts to draw near to Ji Min and Woo Joo.

Also, despite the heavy-handed use of coincidence, I do appreciate that Eun Soo is actually giving Ji Min a fair amount of room to breathe as well. I don’t know whether it’s because she herself needs room to figure out how to proceed, but it does come across as pretty wise.

E6. Eun Soo’s efforts to connect with Ji Min are slightly awkward to watch, because honestly, the number of coincidental meetings that she rigs is testing the boundaries of believability. I would find it hard to believe too, in Ji Min’s shoes. At the same time, though, I do feel like Eun Soo is showing Ji Min quite a bit of her true personality, ie, I don’t feel like she’s putting on a different persona than her real self, in her efforts to draw his attention. Even though she has to be her fiercest self with Chairman Kim, we have seen that Eun Soo is sweet and demure, from the flashbacks to when before she was married. I like that detail, that she’s mostly just being herself, just in staged coincidences, so I find it relatively easy to root for Ji Min to be drawn to her.

E7. I mostly get the feeling that Eun Soo’s plan to win Ji Min’s heart isn’t really that much of a plan. Yes, she suggests dinner and she also takes him rollerskating, but the things that seem to draw Ji Min’s attention aren’t staged things; they’re very real, like the way she passes out and is subsequently feverishly ill. What she says about her late ex-husband is a very mild version of the truth, as in, she doesn’t try to exaggerate the truth to gain Ji Min’s sympathy. She says simply that he’d used to beat her, but doesn’t go into detail about how bad those beatings were.

In that sense, I don’t feel like she’s manipulating the truth to get Ji Min to care about her. As for that moment in her apartment when she asks him to stay because she doesn’t want to eat alone, I tend to believe her, since she’d been hallucinating about being intimidated by her late ex-husband. Having someone stay with her, seems like a reasonable desire, after that.

I feel like the feelings that Ji Min finds growing within him for Eun Soo, are quite organic and genuine. I can’t quite tell whether Eun Soo has real feelings for Ji Min, since her focus is so strongly on Woo Joo, but given how he’s starting to open up to her, I wouldn’t be surprised if she were to develop some real feelings for him too. At the moment, I feel that at the very least, there’s a sense of solidarity that’s developing between Ji Min and Eun Soo, as people who both understand how enduring emotional wounds tend to be.

E8. I find it very amusing how Ji Min’s co-workers are catching on to his growing connection with Eun Soo, and won’t stop teasing him about it. These reporter folk are fast on the uptake, that’s for sure; they didn’t waste any time piecing together the fact that the woman in the photo with Woo Joo, is probably the same woman whose voice they’d heard on the beach recording. Smarties. 😆 Ji Min’s slightly bashful but rather pleased expression is gold, and it makes me happy to see that he’s smiling more.

Ji Min’s gaze has also softened towards Eun Soo, and I really like that too. The fact that he’d initiate a movie date says quite a bit, since he’s always held back from connecting with other women, after his divorce. The wine-making scene was rather cheesy, but it was still very gratifying to see Ji Min and Eun Soo smiling and having a nice time.

E8. I’m pretty sure that the reason Eun Soo confessed her feelings so soon, is because she’s feeling the pressure from having met Se Mi. With Se Mi’s declaration that she intends to reconcile with Ji Min, I’m sure Eun Soo feels pressure to hurry things up in her quest to become Woo Joo’s stepmother. To Eun Soo, this is her only window of opportunity to live with her daughter, and I’m sure she’s stressed by the thought of potentially losing this chance, if Ji Min and Se Mi reconcile.

Although I felt crushed and disappointed on Eun Soo’s behalf when Ji Min balked at her confession and backed away in a hurry, I feel like I can understand why he’s doing that. He’s been very hurt by his last relationship, and has sworn off dating, intent only on focusing on Woo Joo, and with his emotional wounds still raw, he’s like a deer in headlights when he’s confronted by a love confession, which, in a manner of speaking, is pushing him into a corner and forcing him to examine the wounds and the condition of his heart, which heretofore he’s been conveniently ignoring.

His reflex is to turn Eun Soo down and run away; that’s exactly what he’s been doing at the very hint of being set up on a blind date, and that’s why he’s doing the same thing now, at Eun Soo’s confession. The difference is that when he thinks upon Eun Soo and the times they’ve spent together, he actually makes a U-turn (in every sense of the word) and heads right back to her. Too bad he’s stopped in his tracks when he overhears Yeon Joon telling Eun Soo not to waste her time on a wounded man who will never make her happy. Buh. I was disappointed by this, to be sure.

However, we do get sweet couple confirmation, when Eun Soo and Ji Min meet again at his apartment, because Woo Joo asks Eun Soo to come over. There was no way Ji Min would not be moved by those big teary eyes, and Eun Soo’s halting confession, that she’d never met a man as warm as he, and wanted to be greedy, just once, to hope that she could be lucky enough to be with someone like him.

My heart surged with glee, as Ji Min reached out to stop Eun Soo from leaving, and admitted that he did have feelings for her too. I know this is not a rom-com, but SQUEE! I found this all so sweet, warm and tender.

I have to admit, I feel a little uncertain about Eun Soo’s feelings for Ji Min, when she later tells Secretary Yoon that she’s not sure if it’s acceptable to do this to such a decent man. I understand the principle of it; she feels guilty about keeping her relationship with Woo Joo from him. But.. I have been so convinced that her growing feelings for Ji Min were real that I’m slightly blindsided by the possibility that she might’ve been faking it all along. Surely not? I really hope her feelings for Ji Min are real, because the poor man is finally giving himself a chance to love again, and pledging to open his heart to her with complete sincerity. I now feel extra protective of Ji Min, because he’s letting his guard down in good faith even though he’s fearful and still wounded. Don’t hurt him, Show!

E9. It was really hard to see Ji Min get so sad and torn up about Eun Soo’s deception. The sad tears in his eyes, the wistful expression that would take over his features, and the flashes of anger; it all makes sense to me. He’d made himself vulnerable to this woman, and now, his new world, which he’d just established, is being turned upside down. His mind and his heart must be in such a whirl.

And yet, when he confronts Eun Soo with the truth, he doesn’t immediately assume that she’s been lying to him intentionally. That part, where he tells her that if she says that she hadn’t known that Woo Joo was her daughter, he’d believe her, is so heartbreaking. He wants so desperately to believe that Eun Soo’s feelings for him are genuine and true. His desperation for Eun Soo to affirm her feelings for him, by saying that she hadn’t known the truth, is so plaintive and poignant. He strikes me as being willing to accept a lie, if it will protect this delicate new effort of opening himself to a relationship.

To Eun Soo’s credit, she doesn’t take that easy way out. Instead, she chooses truth, but it costs her Ji Min’s trust, and all the closeness and connection that she’s built with both him and Woo Joo. Even though it’s true that Eun Soo is wrong for lying to Ji Min, I can’t help feeling sorry for her, because it’s clear that it’s destroying her on the inside, to lose her connection to Woo Joo, which is all she wants in the world.

Even though Eun Soo now offers to tell Ji Min the truth about everything, I can understand why he wouldn’t want to listen. How can he be sure that anything that she tells him now, is the truth and not a lie?

E9. Ji Min’s nose for the truth is turning up more clues and it seems like the various fragments are going to piece themselves into some kind of picture for him soon. I’m rooting so hard, for Ji Min to uncover the truth, and see that, in spite of her deception, Eun Soo is a victim who needs his understanding and compassion.

Also, that moment when Secretary Yoon falls on the car right in front of him and Eun Soo, I can’t help but notice that Ji Min drops his cold act with Eun Soo, and immediately puts his arm around her protectively, asking if she’s ok. He DOES still have her in his heart, and I’m glad to have some evidence of that.

E10. Things between Ji Min and Eun Soo are still tenuous, and that’s hard to watch because they were recently so sweet and cute together. There is some visible conflict in Ji Min’s expression when he sees Eun Soo crying and torn up about Woo Joo being hospitalized, and then being upset at her for not calling, so I do think he feels sorry for Eun Soo. But his statement, that if Eun Soo’s claim is true, that Chairman Kim had tried to have Woo Joo killed, he has even more reason to keep Woo Joo away from Eun Soo, makes sense too.

E11. Ji Min refers to Eun Soo several times this episode, as the woman he loves. Notably, he doesn’t say it to her; to her, he says that it’s hard to look at her after all that’s happened, but he suggests a business arrangement, so that they can unveil the truth behind Chairman Kim together, in the interest of protecting Woo Joo.

While this might look contradictory on the surface, I don’t think that Ji Min is saying that he loves her just as a cover for their business arrangement. I do believe that he had sincerely given his heart to Eun Soo, and even now, he still has feelings for her. But, that trust has been compromised, and he struggles with not being able to trust her as completely as he once had. To my eyes, this is why he puts up this wall between them. At the same time, when his mother asks him to tell her the truth, he says gently that Eun Soo is the woman that he likes. This felt like a moment of honesty, to me.

I also get the feeling that his conflicted feelings about Eun Soo makes Ji Min sad. However, it does seem like he’s slowly putting his guard down, little by little, like in how he now tells Eun Soo that she can see Woo Joo whenever she’d like to. That’s a big concession on Ji Min’s part, and I feel that it indicates that he believes and trusts her, at least in her capacity as Woo Joo’s mother.

Ji Min’s findings from his investigation is a large part of why he’s slowly starting to trust Eun Soo again. Every piece of information that he unearths thickens the plot further, and makes Chairman Kim look suspicious.

On top of that, the lunch with his parents seems to give Ji Min pause for thought, not only in how he sees Eun Soo as she interacts with his parents and wins their favor with her gentleness, but also, in the questions that his parents ask, which cause him to think about why he was drawn to Eun Soo in the first place. It all appears rather promising, in terms of healing the relationship between Eun Soo and Ji Min – except for how Chairman Kim and Se Mi are set on breaking them apart, with their meddling.

E12. It seems like my rom-com instincts are never far away; even though the circumstances are tense, I’m quite pleased to see Eun Soo stay at Ji Min’s apartment while the reporters swarm hers. Nothing like a bit of forced drama proximity to bond a lead couple?

On a more serious note, I really do enjoy seeing Ji Min soften towards Eun Soo. This episode, it moves me, that he chooses to love her despite all the complications arising from her past. He doesn’t care if people talk; he doesn’t care that on paper, Eun Soo’s still guilty; he chooses to love her in spite of it all, and I’m melted into a puddle of goo because the purity of that love. Gurgle.

It does take him some time to get there, but all the leaked evidence of his love for her is there, and I lap up every instance of it. The way he rushes to help her; the concern in his eyes; a soft gaze; the way he reaches for her hand; it all speaks of his care for her, and I hafta admit, it makes me a little giddy. I am finding Ji Min more and more attractive this episode. Melt. ❤️

[END SPOILER]

Ji Min &/or Eun Soo with Woo Joo

One of the main reasons that the loveline between Ji Min and Eun Soo is more muted than most, is because both of them are also very much focused on Woo Joo, whom they both love dearly.

I actually really enjoyed watching Ji Min’s and Eun Soo’s scenes with Woo Joo, whether they were with Woo Joo on their own, or together. I found their care and love for Woo Joo warm, touching and sacrificial, to the point that I am (grudgingly) almost ok with how Show pushes the loveline to the side in favor of a Woo Joo-focused narrative arc, in its last quarter.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E6. I really enjoy all the little snippets that we get, of Eun Soo spending time with Woo Joo. Woo Joo is so delighted to spend time with her, and Eun Soo’s tearful smiles, as she tries to tamp down the emotion of being in close proximity with the child that she’d thought she’d lost forever, is viscerally affecting. I feel like Eun Soo’s getting a taste of her heart’s deepest desire, and I also feel like Woo Joo’s getting a taste of the motherly love and care that she seeks. It’s all very poignant and sweet, and I am already rooting for this mother-daughter pair to bond deeply and be best friends forever.

E8. It’s heartwarming to see Eun Soo bonding with both Woo Joo and Ji Min, individually and together. It’s like watching a warm family drama instead of a tension-laced makjang, though of course, the tension in this narrative is never far away. Still, I take what I can get, because I enjoy the warm fuzzy feels so much. I love how much Woo Joo loves being around Eun Soo.

E13. The second reveal is the seriousness of Woo Joo’s condition, which requires a lung transplant. I’m a bit surprised by this, because it kind of forces a bit of a narrative detour from the whole Chairman Kim thing, but it does give us some time to see both Ji Min and Eun Soo really lean in to their roles as parents. It occurs to me at this point, that it’s quite an interesting situation where both Ji Min and Eun Soo sincerely see themselves as Woo Joo’s parents, but have never actually parented her together, until now.

We see a whole lot of Ji Min being at his most kind and caring, and I find myself melting all over the floor at his tender looks and gentle demeanor. It’s all so wholesome and loving, and I am quite smitten. 😍

I find it touching that Ji Min doesn’t hesitate for a second, to volunteer to be Woo Joo’s donor, even though it’s a risky surgery that might cost him his life. He really does love Woo Joo as his own, not that I’d had any doubt before.

As for Eun Soo, I really like the way she approaches Woo Joo. She’s gentle and respectful, and focuses first and foremost on the joy that she’s gotten from getting to know Woo Joo, before she goes on to state her innocence. That demonstrates her priorities so clearly, I feel.

That last shot of Ji Min crumpling outside the hospital room, is so poignant to me. I really feel for him. He’s deathly afraid to lose Woo Joo, but he’s also terrified of losing Eun Soo. Poor, sweet man with such a big heart. I really want the surgery to work out, so that he’ll be at ease and happy again.

E14. I also liked the scene where Eun Soo talks to Woo Joo about her surgery. As with the previous scene where Eun Soo talked with Woo Joo about the truth of her prison past, I like the way Eun Soo puts the focus on Woo Joo, and couches everything in the light of how grateful she feels for Woo Joo. I really like this empathetic, understanding quality about Eun Soo. ❤️

[END SPOILER]

STUFF THAT WAS OK

Im Joo Eun as Se Mi [SOME SPOILERS]

By episode 2, we learn that the happy marriage that we see between Ji Min and Se Mi in episode 1 has disintegrated, leaving Ji Min a single father. Because their marriage had appeared to be so happy, I was very curious to learn more about what had happened to cause this marriage to fall apart. Also, because I hadn’t seen Im Joo Eun in anything for so long, I hoped that Show would give her a meaty narrative arc, rather than just be Ji Min’s ex-wife so that Ji Min would be conveniently single when Eun Soo meets him.

On the upside, I think I sorta got what I wanted? I mean, Se Mi does turn into quite an unreasonable and unlikable presence, at least for a good stretch of our story, so it’s definitely not a peripheral sort of role for Im Joo Eun. On the downside, I did spend most of that time rolling my eyes at Se Mi for her delusional tendencies and wide-eyed pity party. (On that note, I’d just like to say that sometimes Se Mi looks downright scary, with her goth-esque makeup and intense wide-eyed gaze.)

All in all, though, I thought Se Mi was a bit of a necessary evil. I mostly didn’t like her very much, but she did effectively make everything in our story a little more challenging and interesting. Also, Show does give her a bit of a redemption arc by the end of our story, so all’s well that ends well.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. It seems that Se Mi had had an affair, AND left Woo Joo in a dangerous situation on her own at home, possibly for the sake of the man with whom she was having an affair. It’s no wonder Ji Min tears up her picture and doesn’t like to talk about her.

E3. It also looks like Se Mi might end up having Chairman Kim as some sort of mentor, since we see them unexpectedly bonding over their struggles, and Se Mi taking Chairman Kim’s advice to heart, to seek out the ones that she misses. In that dinner scene, the two of them even look somewhat alike, with their similar hairstyles.

E9. Se Mi is absolutely rising up to be quite the hateful presence. I’m kinda shocked that when Ji Min confronts her, she acts all self-righteous and confident, despite him outing her as the one who’d sent him the photo of Eun Soo with her baby. And as if that’s not enough, Se Mi makes it a point to visit Eun Soo at her home, to taunt her about being overly confident, and losing Ji Min. That felt unnecessary to me. I mean, why go taunt the woman? You’ve already achieved what you wanted, by getting Ji Min to shun her. Ugh. I rationalize that it’s quite possible that Se Mi’s doing this because she herself feels insecure about a potential future with Ji Min, and putting Eun Soo down bolsters her self-confidence, but this gloating did not endear her to me, at all.

E11. Se Mi’s perception that Eun Soo is still a threat, is making her more desperate, and her desperation is driving her to more extreme behaviors. I feel like I can see the crazy growing in her eyes. First, she overhears Ji Min declaring to Chairman Kim that Eun Soo is the woman he loves, then Yeon Joon (Kwon Hwa Woon) lays it out plainly for her, pointing out exactly what I want to say, that Ji Min is no longer Se Mi’s to obsess over. And after that, Chairman Kim smirks that Se Mi isn’t as bold or as confident as she’d thought, and should just give up. This is just the combination of triggers to set off Se Mi’s crazy eyes, and now I feel like she’s a loose canon starting to explode in slow motion.

First, she tells Ji Min’s mom about Eun Soo’s jail sentence, and then now it looks like she’s about to tell Woo Joo too. Eep. I mean, I admit I’d felt quite gratified, when Eun Soo had refused to bow to Se Mi’s threats, but now, I’m concerned by all the potential damage that she might do.

E12. Se Mi is such a different mother compared to Eun Soo. She’s more concerned with work than spending time with Woo Joo, and she doesn’t seem to understand that Woo Joo’s more interested in painting with her, than in lessons from a fancy art teacher. Not only that, Se Mi leaves Woo Joo on her own to rush back to work, without actually verifying that Woo Joo will be safely taken care of. Clearly, Se Mi’s protective instinct over Woo Joo isn’t all that strong.

E14. I do appreciate that Se Mi seeks out Eun Soo in her drunken state and asks her to please save Woo Joo. Since the truth tends to come out when one is drunk, I feel pretty convinced that whatever her failings are, Se Mi does sincerely want the best for Woo Joo.

[END SPOILER]

Kwon Hwa Woon as Yeon Joon

With the way that Show introduces Yeon Joon as a character, I’d expected him to play a larger role in our story. However, in the end, it feels like writer-nim started to develop Yeon Joon’s story, then got distracted, and forgot about him. 😝

Generally, I feel like Show trots Yeon Joon out when he’s needed for some plot development, and then relegates him to the shadows when he’s not needed. I found his characterization very uneven, and I never managed to warm up to him properly as a character, because of this.

..Which is why he’s in this section. It all balanced out to.. just ok.

Ji Min’s parents and sister

I’ve got Ji Min’s family in here because I generally didn’t care so much for the very loud, OTT way they were written and delivered. It almost felt like being in a different show, whenever any of these three characters were on my screen.

However, I don’t actively dislike them, not least because Show makes them warm and caring people, underneath the shouty tendencies.

[SPOILER] Shout-out to Ji Min’s mom (Im Ye Jin) for being more understanding than I’d expected. Given how shocked Mom was, when she heard that Eun Soo had been jailed for 10 years for murder, I’m pleasantly surprised that she not only chooses to be kind to Eun Soo because she’s Woo Joo’s biological mom, but she even eventually accepts Eun Soo as her daughter-in-law, even offering to keep Eun Soo’s backstory a secret, because she chooses to believe in her son’s judgment. That’s huge, and I appreciate that it’s no easy decision for her.

During that scene in episode 12, where both Eun Soo and Mom cry outside her rooftop apartment, after Mom’s declared that she will trust her son, it feels like a scene of two women sobbing at the cruelty of their fate. I found this scene very poignant. [END SPOILER]

STUFF I LIKED LESS

Show’s rough edges

Like I mentioned earlier in this review, Show’s rather rough around the edges. While they didn’t interfere with out story, I did feel like they made show lean a touch low rent. Here’s a quick look at some of the things that I felt could have been managed better.

[SPOILER ALERT]

1. Sometimes the color grading leans a little stark, I feel, and stuff sometimes looks oversaturated. For example, Woo Joo sometimes looks like she’s wearing a terrible face of makeup (see screenshot above), even though she’s only supposed to be 9 years old. I feel like if the color grading had been managed better, she wouldn’t have looked like a kid who tried to copy her grandaunt’s garish makeup look.

2. Some details feel carelessly managed. For example, the way Eun Soo’s got a square of bandage loosely taped to her hair, after sustaining a head injury in episode 2 that caused her to pass out, is ridiculous.

3. Some scenes are not well thought-out. For example, the entire flashback to the fire in episode 7 feels problematic. It’s completely unbelievable that the neighbors would just stand around wringing their hands, if they honestly believed his apartment was on fire. Surely they would’ve called the fire brigade? And then, I found it quite weird that the whole apartment was smokey, but there was no fire. The stove fire hadn’t even gone out, since we see Ji Min going straight to the stove to turn it off, meaning that the pot therefore didn’t boil over.

[END SPOILER]

Show’s late-stage shift in gears [SPOILERS]

As I alluded to earlier, Show shifts narrative gears at around the episode 14 mark, and I didn’t enjoy it very much. I guess I find it a little.. contrived? I’m a little bummed about that.

We spend a lot of time on Woo Joo and her illness (thus relegating the relationship between Ji Min and Eun Soo to the sidelines), and it’s all pretty predictable. What would usually sell it for me, is the emotions of our characters. However, I couldn’t help but notice that in the scene where Ji Min sits sobbing outside Woo Joo’s hospital room, there are actually no tears on his face whatsoever, in the close-up. That’s.. weird?

More importantly, all the amped-up emotional plot points in this episode, particularly around the transplant surgery, don’t actually make a lot of sense to me (more details on that in the next section), so they don’t land with the intended oomph, and instead falls kinda flat, for me.

Yeon Joon getting evidence of the paintings being kept in Chairman Kim’s storeroom doesn’t feel like a big deal either, even though Show tries to amp it up, because, as the news report points out, it’s only circumstantial evidence. And I’m sure we’ve watched enough dramas to know that circumstantial evidence isn’t enough to be incriminating. In this sense, it feels like the counterattack that Ji Min and Yeon Joon launch, is pretty weaksauce, in the grand scheme of things. Which is proven by how quickly Chairman Kim manages to get out of police custody, to gatecrash the ethics committee meeting. Quite underwhelming all around.

An old-fashioned Hallyu melodrama lens definitely helps with this episode, but it all still felt rather underwhelming to me.

Logic lapses & stretches [SPOILERS]

For the record, here’s a look at the various logic lapses and stretches that I noticed during my watch:

E10. As with many kdramas, the police are portrayed as being not very good at their jobs. It’s a bit eye-rolling that the police immediately claim that there is no evidence to suggest that Secretary Yoon’s death wasn’t a suicide, when all Ji Min has to do, is go to the top of the building where Secretary Yoon fell from, to spot potentially useful evidence, from the blackbox footage from a truck parked in the vicinity. Any reasonably good police officer should have been able to pick that up.

E10. Also, there’s the thing with the recording of Eun Soo allegedly calling the police to confess that she’d killed her husband. If all it took was for someone to analyze the voice file in such a minimal way – ie, put it into a sound editing software and remove the noise – to raise suspicion that the message had been edited, why hadn’t the police discovered this much earlier, when they were actively investigating the case?

E13. It does seem like we’re gearing up for Woo Joo to learn the truth about Eun Soo being her mom. With Eun Soo being a match to donate part of her lungs to Woo Joo, and the hospital needing proof of kinship in order to allow the donation, this seems like an inevitable next step. Although, I have to admit I do wonder why Eun Soo and Ji Min can’t just register their marriage?

E14. I also find it weird, that Eun Soo would be asked to prove that she wouldn’t ask for anything after the surgery, in return for donating part of her lung. I’d have thought that the main issue would be to prove that she’s Woo Joo’s biological mother, and a match. I mean, if the issue is really about making sure Eun Soo won’t ask for benefits post-surgery, can’t they just sign some kind of agreement or contract? This whole thing about needing to bring items and witnesses to prove her devotion to Woo Joo as her birth mother feels very strange to me. And because this feels strange to me, the scenes of Eun Soo gathering her things, and of Mi Jin stepping forward to be Eun Soo’s witness, don’t land with the desired impact, for me.

E14. The whole thing about Chairman Kim putting a stop to Woo Joo getting her surgery in Korea, and offering Ji Min a better option in Japan, as long as he sends Eun Soo away, feels rather predictable and tired. Even Chairman Kim’s words about Woo Joo being her only kin feels hollow and repetitive.

I found myself watching the entire sequence of events with some disbelief. I couldn’t quite believe that Ji Min would agree, and I couldn’t quite believe that he was breaking up with Eun Soo, and yet, when it’s revealed that it was all a pretense in order to trick Chairman Kim, it doesn’t land with much oomph for me. I’m guessing that it’s because I wasn’t even close to being convinced anyway, so when Show revealed that, “Ta da! It was all a bluff!,” it didn’t feel like a big surprise. 👀

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]

Overall, I liked this penultimate episode reasonably well, but it did require some lens adjustments and a fair bit of suspension of disbelief.

Of course, Show might introduce new information in our finale that puts the events of this episode in a fresh new light, but for now, the thing that surprises me the most – and which requires the most suspension of disbelief – is the fact that Chairman Kim so readily presents herself at the police station to turn herself in for the murder of her son. That feels.. kinda too easy?

Also, I don’t buy her sob-story explanation of how she was saving her son from himself. If she’d loved her son so much, and somehow felt that she had to kill him to save him from himself, surely she’d have chosen a more painless way for him to die? But instead, she gets someone to stab him to death? Riiight. Sure, that makes total sense. 🙄

For this reason, I found myself unable to freely enjoy the happier, more upbeat moments in this episode; I kept holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like, what else could Chairman Kim have up her sleeve, because surely she wouldn’t go down this easily?

The other thing that I thought required some serious suspension of disbelief, is how involved Ji Min is, in the investigation on Hwang. I mean, he’s right there in the interrogation room with the detective, and even leaning in to question the suspect.

The whole time, my brain is going, “Wait, isn’t he a reporter and not a detective? And a reporter from the cultural desk, of all things..?” That definitely made it hard to believe that Ji Min would be allowed to be involved in the investigation, in any real capacity.

When I was able to turn down the volume of my brain’s protests, though, I did enjoy the various happy developments we get, this episode.

Not only is Chairman Kim arrested for instigation of murder, Eun Soo’s name is cleared, Woo Joo comes around to Eun Soo’s sincerity and apologizes for misjudging her, and we get tearful happy hugs all around. We also get some sweet, happy couple moments between Ji Min and Eun Soo, which I’d felt were rather lacking, before.

We even get a romantic rooftop date where Ji Min and Eun Soo drink the wine they’d made together, and a kinda-sorta proposal scene, where Ji Min shows Eun Soo their new family relation certificate that states that he, she and Woo Joo are a family now. Aw. That’s nice.

Our understated sweet couple exchanges rings and tearful smiles, and it almost feels like an all-around happy ending. But of course, Show’s got more tricks up its sleeves, and the way Secretary Kim’s face turns dark, as he sits down face to face with Eun Soo in her apartment, makes me nervous.

His ringtone, which we hear now, for the first time, is the exact same one that Eun Soo remembers from the day of Ki Beom’s murder. Is he going to confess that he’d been the one to kill Ki Beom? And – eep – is he going to try to kill Eun Soo too?

Strangely, I’m rather pleased that Show has more tricks up its sleeves for our final episode, because if it didn’t, that would leave us with a fanservicey epilogue-esque sort of finale, and while that would be fine, it would also mean that there’d be little dramatic tension left in our story, and Show is really at its best, when it’s swimming in dramatic tension.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

Heh. It feels like Show decided that this was its last chance to show off its makjang flair, coz this finale, Show brings some seriously hammy high drama flavor to the table, where intensity and shock value are the name of the game, and lack of sense-making is not considered a major flaw.

The biggest twist Show serves up, is the fact that Secretary Kim is actually Chairman Kim’s hidden son. Say, what? Hahaha. I tried to wrap my brain around this, but failed to make much sense of it. I mean, if Chairman Kim had a hidden son, why did she need to go get a fake one..? 😆 Why couldn’t she just have her hidden son be her.. not-hidden son? Age-wise, in the flashbacks, Secretary Kim definitely looks younger than Ki Beom.. So Chairman Kim got pregnant after (secretly) adopting Ki Beom? I guess that’s why she couldn’t swop Real Son with Fake Son, if Fake Son came first? 🤔

If Kim Woong had to be hidden, I guess Chairman Kim had had an affair? Was her husband already dead or something? Because if he wasn’t dead, she could have tricked him into believing this was his son? Also, if he wasn’t dead, how did she manage to conceal an entire pregnancy..? But, if her husband was dead, why couldn’t she just emerge with Real Son and pass him off as an adoption, saying, “Look, I’ve adopted a baby, aren’t I a saint?” 😇 SO MANY QUESTIONSSS. And clearly, Show is not at all interested in answering any of them, since we get zero information about Kim Woong, other than the fact that he’s Chairman Kim’s hidden son – who likes to paint. And moonlights as Kim Hyang Gi, the elusive artist behind all the paintings that Chairman Kim has bought. Okay, then.

To be honest, I don’t even really expect Show to provide answers to these questions, because this entire surprise arc is obviously served up in the purest makjang spirit; for the shock value, in order to add to the entertainment quotient of our watch. After all, when you’re on a frothy rollercoaster ride, you only concentrate on the thrill of the twists and turns; you don’t stop to ask questions about how the ride operators constructed the rollercoaster for your pleasure. 😉

Importantly, everything comes full circle when the tables are turned, and it’s Eun Soo visiting Chairman Kim in prison, telling her that now she’ll know what it feels like to long for her child for the next 10 years, while not being able to see him. I guess that takes care of our Big Bad, in a manner that seems fair. I have to admit, though, that this didn’t land with much oomph for me. It felt a little tame, I guess, after all the tension and drama of Chairman Kim’s evil ways.

Eun Soo’s doctor throws doctor-patient confidentiality out the window, and informs Ji Min that Eun Soo’s made personal arrangements in the event that she dies during the transplant surgery, and as a result, Ji Min tells Woo Joo that Eun Soo is her biological mother, because he doesn’t want to regret not telling her. It’s all very poignant and tearful, but Woo Joo, being the mature girl that she is, only angsts about it for a while, before she eventually softens towards Eun Soo, and asks that Eun Soo be present at the party that her grandparents are throwing for her.

It’s also nice to see Ji Min’s parents show lots of warmth to Eun Soo. And while they can never replace Eun Soo’s real parents, it’s sweet of them to treat her like their own daughter, and tell her that they’ll be her parents from now on, particularly given the initial rough start where Mom had even told Eun Soo not to think about being with Ji Min. Aw. How far they’ve come, in embracing Eun Soo!

Not gonna lie; I did tear up when Woo Joo addresses Eun Soo as “Mom” as they’re being wheeled into surgery. That feels like such a precious gift, and I feel like in this moment, Eun Soo probably has no more regrets in the world, because her baby has acknowledged her.

And then Show proceeds to toy with our emotions, with a time-skip and a maybe-sorta-most-likely tease, that Eun Soo didn’t survive the surgery. I mean, Show gives us the impression that Ji Min is solo-parenting Woo Joo, and Ji Min even carries a bouquet of white chrysanthemums with him – a traditional choice for paying respects to the dead – and tells Woo Joo that they should hurry to meet Mom.

I mean, I rather firmly believed that Show would give Eun Soo a happy ending, but, given Show’s makjang flair and its apparent preference for classic Hallyu storytelling, I have to admit that with these hints that Show was dropping, I couldn’t help but wonder if Eun Soo really had died. Show really had me going for a while there.

Thankfully, it’s all a fake-out, and Eun Soo is alive and well, waiting for Ji Min and Woo Joo at the cemetery, so that they can visit her dad and Secretary Yoon, whose niches are now side by side. I do find it strange that she would meet them at the cemetery, given that they’re almost definitely living together in the same house now, but I’ll rationalize that perhaps she went ahead because she wanted some time alone with Dad. Also, it’s just such a relief to know that Eun Soo’s alive and well, that I’m happy to forgive Show for toying with my feelings. Ok, maybe I do want to give Show a slight stink-eye. But only a little one! 😉

Overall, I do feel that Show does a nice job of giving us a decently solid ride, despite some rough spots. Good effort, Channel A! 👊🏻

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Stronger in its initial episodes than in its later ones, but overall, absorbing, engaging and entertaining in an old-school Hallyu kinda way.

FINAL GRADE: B+

TEASER:

MV:

PATREON UPDATE!

The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of Lie After Lie, is Sisyphus: The Myth. I’ve taken an initial peek, and I really like it so far! 😄

If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can find my Patreon page here. You can also read more about all the whats, whys, and hows of helping this blog here. Thanks for all of your support, it really means a lot to me. ❤️

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Eric
Eric
4 months ago

Great review as usual. I just finished it and the one thing I would add is to check out Marriage Contract if you enjoyed this. The two stories feel very similar in terms of themes, tone, emotions.

Kay
Kay
7 months ago

“Old school leaning makjang” has my name written all over it, lol. I’ve heard so many good things about this one and really need to give it a go. I love soapy makjangs, particularly of the shock variety. The Last Empress and Return were right up my alley. I definitely plan to check out Penthouse since I liked those so much. I had the same experience as you with Graceful Family. I liked it, but it felt like it was just dipping its toes in the makjang pool, and I wanted it to dive in. This one sounds really promising for me though 🙂

Georgia Peach
7 months ago

Really enjoyed the ride which was Lie After Lie. Let’s see if I have Chairwoman Kim’s secret son figured out. Father of what turns out to be druggie son marries wife that becomes Chairwoman Kim. She has a son but never tells abusive husband. He dies or does she have him killed? She then brings secret son in as her Secretary. Step son who loved her gets himself messed up on drugs. Abuses secret son. That put Chairwoman Kim over the top and she has druggie son whacked. Secret son does the deed because he hates druggie son.There clear?? 🙄🤔😳. Love me some makjang❗️

Georgia Peach
7 months ago
Reply to  Georgia Peach

Oh yeah…and secret son was raised by the future Chairwoman Kim’s bewildered mother…who lived in the countryside. I’m thinking I’ve watched too many of these things 🙄

Georgia Peach
7 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

I did watch Penthouse. It’s was over the top, without apologies makjang. It had you saying at every turn: WHAT??? I can’t believe these people are doing this!! What’s going to happen with them all next?? I’m not a big fan of Eugene’s acting, but she was perfect for the part. (I thought she ‘over acted’ a bit. But that is sometimes necessary for the makjang to come alive. 🙄) The rest of the cast was spot on for me! I’m of the opinion that what makes a drama popular in Korea is that the bad people have to be really bad and the good people have to be trod on my said bad people over and over. I think it’s the ‘han’ in the soul of Koreans that makes the makjang so popular. And the idea that the good person will somehow triumph and get the (복수 bogsu), revenge they deserve. I did a lot of eye rolling and knee slapping, but enjoyed the show. It did have some heart warming moments as well…you’ll have to watch it to find those. And I really don’t recall a lot of plot holes..perhaps some leaps of logic…after all that’s the heart of makjang. Few dramas are pitch perfect after all. With the exception of Money Flower. 😘

seankfletcher
7 months ago

I thoroughly enjoyed that we got to experience things in an old school kinda way, because that was what the story demanded. And despite my “slight” aversion to Makjang, it was like Goldilocks and the Three Bears: just right.

Lee Il Hwa was terrific. I do hope we get to see her in more diverse roles. She has often struck me as an actor who can deliver much more and she has here, by the bucket load and in a very “I have to see what she does next” kinda way.

I do think this is Yeon Jung Hoon’s best outing for a while. I thought Lee You Ri nailed Ji Eun Soo.

The take away from Lie after Lie: be careful what you do with your collection of art works 😂

Lady G.
7 months ago

I skimmed through most of the review because i wanted to avoid spoilers. I love a good Makjang, and this sounds just right! I miss the drama crack days.

I’m adding it to my list. Lee Yoo Ri grew on me as an actress! She started off constantly playing the evil girl, she was so good at it I just couldn’t bring myself to like her much. lol. I like a good drama with Yeon Jung-hoon and is also very good at playing the villain. However I love him as the lead too. I enjoyed his performance way back in the rom-com drama “Can Love Become Money?” I still need to see Vampire Detective sometime. Do you Remember years back how I joked that Yeon Jung Hoon had a “vampiric” inflection in his voice, like the stereotypical “I vant to suck your blood!” Lugosi speech?? It cracked me up just now as I was writing this.

Trent
7 months ago

I finished this literally yesterday, and was looking forward to your review, so thanks for not making us wait!

So, I think this is my first encounter with the full-on makjang experience in a show. I’ve seen touches here and there, of course, but this really went all out. I wanted to see this in the first place because the core premise is kind of irresistible: wrongfully imprisoned mother upon release from prison schemes to become her adopted biological daughter’s step-mother. With a premise like that, it kind of has to be makjang, yeah?

A few thoughts:

[There are specific spoilers below]

This is the first time I’ve seen Lee Yoo-ri in anything, and I really do think she was absolutely perfectly cast for this part. She projected a sort of deep Our Lady of Sorrows aura so effortlessly that you can really feel just how she has been wronged simply by looking at her, and how nobly she has been bearing up under the weight of cruel fate. (I’m being a bit hyperbolic, obviously, but seriously, she really sold the part very very well). Her face and bearing were all wounded innocence (as you point out, even when she’s scheming it’s in service of an ultimately good or defensible goal), and even when she’s happy or resolute or about to choke out the Chairwoman, she still has that persona.

I thought the child actress who played Woo-joo did quite a good job, actually. Maybe not amazing, but she displayed a default winning personality, and handled a range of reactions and emotions with competence at the least. I liked her.

It’s funny, we hit that section around episode 10-11 when suddenly the Eun-soo/Ji-min relationship is leaping forward, and before we can hardly blink, they’re planning out a tasteful little wedding ceremony with a hundred of their closest friends, and so of course the obvious question is “what does any self-respecting makjang melo have up its sleeve? Oh, right, the fatal diagnosis for the child, of course, of course” (I didn’t actually foresee it, but in retrospect, it was the perfectly obvious move). (The whole Woo-joo “teacher, are you a murderer?” line as they’re standing at the altar was of course a quintessential makjang move. Bravo, show, bravo). I did feel like they dragged out the Woo-joo illness plot longer than they needed to; it ran for the entire back third of the show, more or less.

As far as the Chairwoman…I’ve only seen Lee Il-hwa as the kind, selfless mother in Reply 1988, and of course this is a radically different role. She does a great job playing the ruthless evil Chairwoman, of course. I was pretty sure that we were going to find out she wasn’t the biological mother of Eun-soo’s first husband as soon as Show started hinting at a second DNA test out there somewhere. And I guessed that her current secretary, who always seemed a little too close to her, and a little to willing to do whatever she asked, was her actual son about 3-4 episodes before the reveal (I don’t usually guess these things, so I was a bit chuffed to be right this time). You’re right, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but by the 16th episode, it’s all shock value/leave the audience wound up on a high note.

Anyway. I mostly enjoyed this; it had its flaws and on occasion its over-the-top nature could get a bit exhausting, but the core relationships– Eun-soo and Woo-joo; Eun-soo and Ji-min; the three of them together–were gratifying and made it worthwhile.

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
7 months ago
Reply to  Trent

Chairwoman Kim won my award for kdrama Villain of 2020, and that’s saying a lot! She had a tough competition with the villains in Flower of Evil and It’s Okay Not To Be Okay, but she came victorious!

Trent
7 months ago
Reply to  Snow Flower

That’s a fair assessment…

[spoilers for Flower of Evil and It’s Okay to Not Be Okay]

I mean, Flower of Evil, we’re talking straight out serial killer (or two, if we consider master and apprentice both), but on the other hand, one is long dead and only seen in flashback, and the other is in a coma for the majority of the show, unless we also count flashbacks. Also, neither of them really get to scheme and plot quite like the Chairwoman.

The villain of IOTNBO struck me as a lot more peripheral: she’s kind of a looming, brooding presence for most of the show, whose influence obviously affects Ko Mun-young deeply, but who is not really there except as a memory and a hinted at presence, until suddenly she leaps on stage for the last 2-3 episodes to (ineffectually) attempt a little murder before being caught and locked up. She’s not really in your face from start to finish like Chairwoman Kim.

As I was watching this, Chairwoman Kim actually reminded me a bit of Song Yoon-ah’s Choi Yoo-jin in The K2. Yoo-jin is technically not Chairwoman, but she still exercises complete control over the family business. She projects the same sort of steely ruthlessness, except she leavens it with hints of humanity and a sense that circumstances made her turn out this way (to be fair, this show hints at that theme with Chairwoman Kim as far as showing the domestic violence at the hands of her husband, but then never really develops the theme much beyond a short scene or two).