Because I’d enjoyed Mystic Pop-up Bar very well, I was immediately intrigued when I saw that Dramaland was bringing us this little mini series. I mean, from the premise alone, this one sounds kinda-sorta similar, right?
The reality is, this one doesn’t quite vibe like Mystic Pop-up Bar, after all. Instead, it feels like a slightly more vengeful cousin – but who ultimately still wants to have a good heart.
Not bad overall, with a few lens adjustments.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
After everything that could go wrong, does go wrong in Jin’s (Nam Ji Hyun) life, she is offered a wish by a mysterious witch (Song Ji Hyo), who runs a Diner where she grants patrons wishes – for a price. How will Jin use her wish, and what will come out of it?
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Here are few things to keep in mind, that I think will help you to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:
1. Our screen time is limited.
Therefore, there are times when we need to fill the narrative gaps ourselves, because Show doesn’t have time to do it. There are also times when not everything adds up. Relaxing your expectations around these things should help.
2. This one leans more dark and more melodramatic than I’d expected.
Show’s melodramatic nature doesn’t really come to the forefront until the last couple of episodes, but I think it’s still good to know about it upfront. That way, you’d know to expect it, and won’t feel like it’s some kind of bait-and-switch.
3. I feel like a marathon works best, for this show.
I slurped up several episodes back-to-back in Show’s initial-to-mid stretch, and that felt pretty enjoyable.
But then I took a break of several weeks between episode 5 and episode 6, and by the time I started back up again, I felt like I’d lost momentum, somewhat.
STUFF I LIKED
Song Ji Hyo as our resident Witch Hee Ra
I’m not a huge fan of Song Ji Hyo as an actress, mainly because I personally feel like there’s a cold quality about her delivery that I don’t typically like.
But, before starting on this one, I decided that she would probably be great as a witch, for the very reason that I don’t typically like her as an actress, and I’m happy to report that I was right!
Song Ji Hyo is amazing as a witch. That coldness serves her well in this, and with the rich wardrobe and sharp makeup, it all comes together in one slick, magical, otherworldly sort of package that I find very aesthetically on-point.
Chae Jong Hyeop as Gil Yong
I really liked Gil Yong, right away. He’s such a good, decent, loyal kinda guy.
[MINOR SPOILER] He’s kind and helpful, even to strangers, and won’t stand by when he sees his old friend getting trashed by bullies. [END SPOILER]
While I did find Gil Yong’s attachment to Jin startlingly fast, I really did feel like it was good for Jin to have Gil Yong in her orbit, for the friendly moral support.
The connection between Jin and Gil Yong
I saw some viewers cringe at the fact that Gil Yong’s a high schooler in this story, but I see nothing wrong with it, because there isn’t an actual loveline between Jin and Gil Yong.
Yes, the crush Gil Yong develops on Jin is surprisingly fast and deep, and his all-in, long-term approach to it is unexpected and perhaps even a little unnatural, but once I accept that he just likes her, I found their connection pretty heartwarming.
He likes her without expecting her to like him back, and he just wants to be around her, and help her, and support her, and I thought that was very sweet. Importantly, Jin never leads him on or gives him false hope, so I have no complaints there.
The customer arcs
The various customer side stories, featuring cameos from familiar faces, are easy to follow, and pretty easy to get invested in, but afterwards, it also feels relatively easy to move on to the next one.
Also, it’s a pretty nice touch, that these side stories tend to touch on real issues in Korea, like the very competitive job market.
STUFF THAT WAS OK
Nam Ji Hyun as Jin
I find Jin likable and earnest, but sometimes I found her a little too naive, and a little too trusting. Not only was it hard to see her endure so much unfair treatment, sometimes I felt frustrated with her, for not being more cautious.
For example, the whole thing with losing the restaurant to the smiling frenemy, all because Jin and Mom (So Hee Jung) hadn’t been shrewd enough to notice loopholes in the contract. This wouldn’t have happened if Jin &/or Mom had been more cautious, and more shrewd.
Plus, there’s the thing where Jin ends up dating Tom Kim (Choi Sung Jae) right after meeting him, and getting taken for a ride because he turns out to be a lying jerk.
The food looks reasonably good
..But the reason I have it here, instead of in the “Stuff I liked” section, is because Show somehow manages to make the food scenes feel sumptuous yet vaguely grotesque and uncomfortable, at the same time, like our characters are indulging their base natures, as they savor their food, and their wishes, at the same time. I found it quite a fascinating mix.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Some of the plot points aren’t easy to watch.
In particular, I thought the set-up around Jin and Gil Yong, and why they would want or need wishes from our resident Witch, was a little much.
However, I get that this is all part of our set-up; if they weren’t in such difficult situations, why would they need wishes from our Witch, right?
Some of the side story moments are a little difficult to watch too, but I consider it pretty much par for the course, given our premise.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
At the episode 7 mark, our story goes full-on melodramatic, or I should say, our story finally reveals its melodramatic nature.
We finally get the full backstory, and while I did find the melodrama rather heavy-handed, I did appreciate that the backstory itself answers a lot of questions that have been hanging over our characters over the course of our story.
No wonder Witch Hee Ra has such an interest in Jin. Jin is her daughter. 🤯
No wonder Jin’s going through the things she’s going through; Hee Ra had cursed her married lover’s children, before realizing she was pregnant with his child. And that curse had been, that his child would suffer as she had, and be miserable.
No wonder Jin got all involved with Tom Kim, who’d turned out to be married.
This was all part of the curse, which Hee Ra’s now ready to reverse, at the cost of her life. And no wonder Jin’s shown some witch-like abilities, like being able to read the recipe book, where the pages look blank to regular people.
Like I said, I do find it all rather melodramatic, but I appreciate enough, how well this reveal answers so many questions that have been hanging in the air, that I feel it sort of balances out.
Personally, I’m a little underwhelmed at the wish that Jin makes, because she uses her wish in such a forgiving manner, but that wish causes her to become a witch. That feels like a ridiculously high price to pay, to forgive someone?
Of course, Jin vibes much more like a good witch than Hee Ra ever did, so I guess this means that Jin’s going to take the Diner in a kinder direction than when Hee Ra was at the helm.
Also, it’s really rather nice to see Gil Yong all cleaned up in a suit, ready to fill the role of supporter to Jin, just as Mr. Oh has done for Hee Ra.
I do like the dinner where Hee Ra cooks and Jin’s not-bio mom joins the party.
That moment, when Hee Ra tells Mom that she won’t say “sorry,” because “thank you” seems more apt, is nicely touching. I like this idea, that this misfortune that had befallen Mom’s family, had turned out to be such a blessing.
..Which brings me to this finale’s other emphasis, that everything happens for a reason, and our lives are a culmination of these moments, that have all happened for a reason. That, and the idea that everyone has wishes, and the more you believe it, the more you make it come true.
I actually really liked that interview snippet at the end, where we see regular people telling the camera what their wishes are – and then we cut to Jin and Gil Yong, inviting everyone to stop by the Witch’s Diner, so that they can help grant those wishes.
It’s a surprisingly heartwarming note on which to end this story, since we’d started off rather dark, but I’m actually rather glad for it.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A little uneven and a little dark, but ultimately heartwarming.
FINAL GRADE: B
WHERE TO WATCH:
You can check out this little show for free on Viu, or on Viki with Viki Pass Standard.
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Agree with both you and Trent it was fine not amazing. The length I believe worked it its favour.
What I will say is I watched Song Ji Hyo and Choi Jin Hyuk in Emergency Couple and whilst the first two episodes were a bit screechy both of them bought warmth to their characters.
One of the things I did feel was missing was the spark that Nam Ji Hyun brings she always has that bit of sparkle in her whether it be in Shopping Louis or Suspicious Partner but maybe she show was so dark that it would have felt odd.
@Shahz Yeah, I don’t think this one could have worked if it had been longer, like a typical 16 episoder, for instance.
Oh I couldn’t get past the initial screechy stretch in Emergency Couple, so I’ll have to take your word for it! 😅😂
I think tonally, Show was ambitious in wanting to lean dark, but also wanting to be heartwarming in the end. That’s hard to achieve without being whiplashy, and while I appreciated that we didn’t end on a dark note, I do feel that the balance was rather off. And perhaps that also affected Nam Ji Hyun’s scope, to bring sparkle to her character?
A good review; describes my reaction to its various parts fairly well.
I thought this was a mildly entertaining bit of drama that thankfully didn’t overstay its welcome (even 12 episodes would have been too long, I think). The flip side of that is that, as you mention, some things happen very quickly in the name of narrative efficiency (Gil-young’s devotion to Jin just kind of springs on us fully formed; Jin’s initial wish and its fulfillment seem very quick and the deadly result speedily delivered), but all in all it’s a worthwhile trade-off–get to the point, even if it tromps on some more detailed development.
I’d never seen Song Ji-hyo before, so I didn’t have the same preconceptions as you, but I agree she did play the detached, “I’m going to give you what you ask for, good and hard” witch quite well.
This is only the second thing I’ve seen Nam Ji-hyun in; I mildly appreciated her in 100 Days My Prince (but she benefited, perhaps, from comparison to D.O., who I did not care for, playing opposite her there), but I was kind of neutral on her here, at best. She was fine, I guess?
But overall, a decent-if-not-great little mid-length drama.
@Trent Yes, I totally agree that this one was decent, but could have been better.
Nam Ji Hyun has been a little hit or miss for me, though I did like her quite well in Suspicious Partner and drama special Off The Course. Both are pretty decent watches that I’d score higher than this one, at the very least! 😉