THE SHORT VERDICT:
The Heavenly Idol started with a fun concept, which I enjoyed quite nicely, but it eventually felt like Show was a one-trick pony that was trying (pretty darn hard) – and failing – to prove that it had more than one trick up its sleeves.
That one trick is Kim Min Gyu’s heavenly priest struggling to adapt to the idol life, and while that is admittedly amusing, that eventually ran out of steam, and sadly, I didn’t quite take to Show’s other efforts to engage and entertain.
I do have a suggested viewing lens for this, but ultimately, I have to concede that this one’s better in concept than execution, unfortunately.
THE LONG VERDICT:
One of the key reasons I sat up and took notice of this show, when it started its promos, is that Kim Min Gyu is the main lead.
I have a good amount of affection for Kim Min Gyu’s brand of dorky charm, having really liked him in A Business Proposal (review here!), and was genuinely thrilled that he would get to headline a drama.
The quirky-wacky premise seemed like such fun, too, in all of Show’s trailers.
..Unfortunately, this show just didn’t live up to its potential – and I say that, even after making (what I feel is) an important lens adjustment, which I’ll talk more about shortly.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Generally speaking, I found the music pleasant and inoffensive, though none of the tracks actually stuck with me or got under my skin.
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
While watching this show, I started out with a manhwa lens, and that served me reasonably well – up to a point.
It was only at the episode 9 mark of my watch, that, while considering Show’s earnest-serious tone, I suddenly had an Aha! moment.
I suddenly remembered what I’d said about Bride of the Century (review here!), back in the day; that it felt like a Serious Play written by a bunch of little kids.
Kinda almost the same thing here.
In my head, this is the scenario:
A bunch of tween kids (maybe in their final year of elementary / grade school) is given a group assignment, where they’re supposed to write the screenplay for this show.
The writing prompt is to create an action fantasy story – bonus points if they can demonstrate that they understand the meaning of Makjang. Also, logic is bonus, but not necessary. 😁
And of course, what kind of inspiration would this bunch of tween kids have? Why, their manhwas, their video games, and their imagination of course. (And so, a bit of that manhwa lens does turn out to be pretty handy after all, in managing the watch experience.)
On the upside, this is a very suitable lens to use, with this show.
On the downside, this doesn’t actually turn this show into the fun romp that this same lens had once done, for Bride of the Century.
Rather, this entire drama basically became a thing where I thought of myself as a patient aunt to one of the kids writing this Very Serious Play, and that’s the thing that keeps me watching, despite Show’s multiple rough edges. 😅
..But you don’t feel like you’re one of these kids’ relatives (&/or don’t have a soft spot for Kim Min Gyu) and therefore aren’t compelled to watch this show, then maybe check out Bride of the Century instead (again, review is here, and link to watch is at the end of the review! 😁)
MY APPROACH FOR THIS REVIEW
I’ve decided that I’ll be approaching this review in roughly the same way I typically approach my reviews, but with some tweaks.
For one thing, I will talk about the stuff I liked and didn’t like, as usual, but I won’t be doing any character or relationship deep dives, because I don’t feel that this show warrants it.
Another thing is, I will be talking about what I would have preferred that Show do instead, with its story, instead of what it ended up serving up.
I hope you guys enjoy. ❤️
If you’re curious to know my blow-by-blow thoughts on this show, my episode notes are available on Patreon here.
SILVER LININGS (STUFF I LIKED)
Kim Min Gyu is an endearing dork
Like I mentioned earlier, Kim Min Gyu was THE reason that I signed up for this show, and his portrayal of a heavenly priest who finds himself suddenly stuck in the life of a washed-up idol, was definitely one of the bigger highlights of my watch.
I personally think Kim Min Gyu’s perfectly cast for the role, coz he’s got a natural slightly dorky vibe that translates very well into Rembrary’s goody do-gooder priest character in his own world, as well as Rembrary’s utter confusion, when he gets thrown into Woo Yeon Woo’s world.
That dorky quality contrasts nicely with the sageuk-speak that Rembrary keeps using as Woo Yeon Woo, and I find that it comes off as quite entertaining, coz he looks like a lost puppy, but talks like an old sageuk soul. 😁
I also find it quite amusing that Rembrary is consistently completely honest about who he really is, and where he’s from, like he’s got no filter whatsoever, much to the chagrin of the people around him.
I do love the idea, though, that somehow, Rembrary’s antics actually earn him a lot of buzz, whereas, if he’d really been Woo Yeon Woo playing by the rules, he almost certainly wouldn’t have had the same reaction from the media or from the public.
On another note, I like that Rembrary still has access to his powers here on earth, and I think it’s very cute and quite hilarious, that Rembrary’s powers are powered by chocolate, hahahaha.
That is so unexpected and so funny-quirky; I love the idea of Rembrary being obsessed with chocolate – though for different reasons than the rest of us. 😁
I think it’s cute, and I think that Rembrary’s reactions faces of wonder, thrill and excitement, each time he experiences a power rush, is even cuter. 😁
One of my favorite things about Rembrary, is his compulsion to heal the sick.
I LOVED the moment in episode 4, when he shook hands with that fan, and, realizing that she was sick, proceeded to heal her, right there and then, through the touch of his hands on hers.
That is the most wholesome, melty thing; I love what a big and kind heart he has.
[END MINOR SPOILERS]
As a bonus, this is my first time hearing Kim Min Gyu sing, and he sounds great too! 🤩
I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised, since I did read that he’d originally trained to be an idol, but it’s still lovely to hear his singing voice for the first time. 🥰
The fish out of kpop waters hijinks
With Show’s premise, the kpop-related hijinks are basically ripe for the picking, and I found myself enjoying these very well, on three counts:
1, Rembrary’s fish-out-of-water reactions are pretty great,
2, Show manages to poke gentle fun at the industry at the same time, without getting too carried away, and
3, We do get a bit of an (admittedly stylized) insider’s peek into the kpop industry, which I found rather interesting, as a person who’s mostly a kpop noob.
Here’s a small sampling of examples, just to illustrate what I mean, a little bit.
I got a mild kick out of the way Show pokes (gentle) fun at the kpop industry, from the way Rembrary reacts with horror at the cramped living conditions of the group, as well as the strict diets that they’re expected to adhere to.
I mean, Show’s basically taking conditions that we know to be true of the kpop industry, and getting Rembrary to be the fresh set of eyes processing it all, and pronouncing that it’s terrible, and not fit for humans.
And then, there’s also how horrified Rembrary is, when the photographer tells him to channel an evil vibe for the photoshoot.
We mostly don’t think anything much of it, because it’s become so common in the industry, but it is true, that idols are packaged into whatever is deemed buzzworthy and profitable – even if it’s to channel the devil, and even if it goes against their personal values.
Rembrary’s horrified, vehement reaction to this just puts it into perspective for us, is all, I think.
Show also means it for Funny, certainly, which is why I feel like Show’s shining a quick spotlight on this, and provoking thought if you would find yourself ready to go in that direction, or just providing laughs, if that’s what you feel more like, in the moment.
I rather like that idea, and I’m keen to see how this plays out. Can Rembrary make a name for himself as an idol and actor, without actually playing by the rules of the industry?
I also like how Dal (Go Bo Gyeol) is teaching Rembrary the nuts and bolts of being an idol, down to how to watch for the camera, and always look perfect for any time the camera focuses on him.
I suppose real idols need to perfect this skill too? I never thought about it, honestly; I’d just assumed that they all just looked great without having to try. 😅
Show’s sense of humor leans gentle
The main thing I’d like to say about Show’s sense of humor, is that it vibes gentle.
What I mean by this, is that it does do a bit of various things – like serve up humorous scenes, or poke fun at the kpop industry – but it does it with a gentler sort of touch.
It’s not aggressively funny; it’s gently funny. It’s not aggressively critical of the kpop industry; it pokes fun in a gently moderate sort of manner. I don’t know if that would work for everyone, works for me.
How this translates is, when I don’t actually find Show’s attempts at humor funny, it lands more as a gentle bump in the road that’s easy to glide over, rather than a blast in my face that I need to step away from.
And when I do find it funny, I find myself chuckling along with Show (versus laughing out loud), as it does its thing.
E5. There are little almost throwaway moments that are quite amusing, like how Sun Ja (Ye Ji Won) asks him, “Yeon Woo, who did you save?,” and Rembrary answers serenely, “Everyone.” 😁
I find the funny is mostly in Rembrary’s unruffled, but-of-course sort of vibe, as he says that, while everyone is either thrilled to bits by the media attention, or, as in the case of Dal, stressed out at the potential risks of the media attention.
And then later, Rembrary’s reaction to aegyo – like his eyes have just been burned by the fire of a thousand suns – is really quite funny. Plus, I personally find it relatable too, because sometimes, that’s exactly how I feel about aggressive aegyo. 🙈😅
His struggle with aegyo and being expected to serve it up, amuses me, and also, makes me wonder how many idols out there actually identify with his struggle.
Like, maybe there are idols who instinctively recoil from aegyo, like Rembrary, and are forcing themselves to do it..? 😁😅
Lee Jang Woo as Evil Dude
I also wanted to say that I think Lee Jang Woo’s casting in this is a stroke of brilliance.
I mean, he does clean up pretty nice, and he’s got solid acting chops to channel the evil decently well, but he’s also got this slight air of dork about him.
I love the meta context that he’s actually pretty dorky in real life, and, according to episode 397 of I Live Alone where he guested (alongside Junho, which is how I know 😁), he’s also pretty obsessed food and avoiding exercise – and thus tends to put back any weight that he manages to lose, ha.
With all of that as background knowledge, I am actually supremely tickled at him playing Evil Dude, who’s supposedly glowering and powerful and dark, and cleans up nice in a sharp suit – but is still a touch on the chubby side of things, because of Lee Jang Woo’s weakness for good food. 😁
That perceived lashing of dork is PERFECT for Evil Dude, I feel like, coz I always feel like he’s always on the verge of having his Big! Evil! plans frustrated by innocent Rembrary. 😁
THE STUFF THAT WAS JUST OK
Show’s attempt at romance [BROAD SPOILERS]
So in principle, I don’t have a problem with Go Bo Gyeol as our female lead, nor the idea of a loveline between her character Dal, and Rembrary.
In fact, I like that Go Bo Gyeol gets to play in the female lead space for once, and gets to show more range and personality than in, say, Hi Bye, Mama (review here!), where she’d played a pretty reserved second female lead.
I also liked how Show worked to get Rembrary and Dal properly on the same side; I thought that was nice.
The thing is, I thought the introduction of romance into the equation was weirdly and awkwardly handled.
To my eyes, it mostly felt like it came out of nowhere, leapfrogging over any kind of organic development, to give us sudden OTP milestones like feelings, confessions and kisses.
Like, “Woah, where did that come from?” – was often my thought, in response to the OTP milestones happening on my screen. 😅
The treatment of the OTP relationship is wholesome and pure, yes, but without proper development or context, these moments felt hollow, and, to be honest, quite meaningless, overall.
Once the loveline is established, it has a gawky adolescent flavor to it, like, not only do Rembary and Dal not know what to do with their feelings, Show’s writers don’t know either. 😅
And so, the whole way our imagined tween writers go about exploring this loveline, is not by actually exploring the feelings themselves, and the dynamic between Rembrary and Dal; it’s by amping up the supernatural conflict instead.
..Which is not at all the way I personally prefer an OTP relationship to be handled.
Show’s attempt at a secondary loveline
I really like Ye Ji Won, but I felt that Show did her a disservice with the way it treated her character Sun Ja.
It felt like Show was making fun of her as an older single woman, and I felt the jokes at her expense were in poor taste.
It’s mostly because of this, that I didn’t find myself taking to the loveline that Show forms between Sun Ja and Seon Woo Sil (Tak Jae Hoon).
Well, that, and the fact that I just didn’t find the Intended Funny around this loveline very amusing at all.
Generally speaking, I like the idea of second chance romances, but I think this one was just too forced and try-hard, for my taste.
SHOW’S MAIN PROBLEM
Your mileage may vary, of course, depending on what you enjoy in your dramas, but for me personally, I felt that Show’s main problem was that it spent too much time on the supernatural conflict stuff, instead of the heavenly idol stuff.
It was all fine and good, until about the episode 5 mark, where I found myself wishing that Show would dial down the supernatural conflict with Evil Dude, because I actually wanted more earthly hijinks involving our heavenly priest.
I guess I just prefer the idea of fish out of water stuff, versus all the supernatural conflict stuff.
Worse, as we get deeper and deeper in our story, Show ramps up the supernatural conflict more and more.
..Which is basically the opposite of what I wanted it to do.
I think I (and probably many other viewers too) would’ve enjoyed this show a lot more, if Show would’ve focused on the earthly hijinks instead.
This next section, is where I talk about how I’d have had this story unfold instead, if I had been the one calling the shots on this show. 😁
WHAT I THINK SHOW SHOULD’VE DONE INSTEAD [SOME SPOILERS]
So.. hear me out on this one. I actually think my version of the story has the potential to be a pretty great drama.
At around the episode 4 mark, a psychiatrist pronounces that Woo Yeon Woo is suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, and Rembrary is a second personality that he’s created in order to protect himself psychologically, and to evade reality.
Y’know, I would’ve loved if Show would have taken that, and used that as the truth behind our whole story – but only revealed that twist near the end, as a Game Changer.
So we have Woo Yeon Woo, under a lot of stress because of the demands of the kpop life, who creates Rembrary as a second personality, and he truly thinks that he’s a priest from another world, who’s called to heal others.
And so, as he continues to be a Pontifex from a different world, with healing powers, it’s the other people around him, who need to adjust to his reality.
I would’ve loved to have explored how Rembrary unabashedly continues to be himself, and yet, somehow succeeds in k-ent, without playing by k-ent’s rules.
Wouldn’t that be a pretty healthy, awesome message?
We could have all those scenes where Rembrary isn’t used to being boxed in, and therefore easily thinks outside the box, like when he rewrites the lyrics of that song to something healthier and more uplifting, like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
We could have the scenes of Rembrary channeling his power into the songs that he sings, so that it has a magical uplifting effect on people; he believes it’s his supernatural power, but it’s really the heart in his music, that moves people.
Wouldn’t it be cool, if he used his “healing powers” through his music, and literally began to heal the world..? 🥰
..And then, we get the Big Reveal, that Rembrary really is a second personality of Yeon Woo’s, and all of these goings-on, on our screens, is just from his perspective, when really, Yeon Woo is suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Altogether, wouldn’t that make for a potentially thought-provoking and poignant story, underneath the fun hijinks?
That, done well, could’ve made this an Amazing drama, with a capital A. 🤩
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
By the time I got to the finale stretch, I have to confess that my initial amusement at Show’s premise, and then my amusement at the viewing lens that I’d found, had largely worn off.
To be brutally honest, I found it quite effortful, to get through episode 11. 😅
The reason I stuck it out, is because I was curious to see exactly how Show planned to wrap up this story; like, how were we going to get the happy ending that I was so sure Show was planning to serve up?
I was somewhat rewarded with episode 12, in that Show gives us that twist, that Woo Yeon Woo had always been a Pontifex-wannabe named Ardor (cameo by Kim Bup Rae), who’d come to earth in Rembrary’s image, to try to ruin him.
Hahaha. I was quite amused by the idea of this, honestly. I think that was the single funniest surprise Show managed to serve up, for me personally.
And how funny, that Ardor had tried so hard to succeed as an actor, because he’d wanted to incite hate in people, as per his assignment from Redrin, but had been stuck as an idol, because Rembrary’s got an idol’s face. Pfft.
I was a lot less interested in the whole idea that Redrin’s been evil from the start, because it’s been done in enough other dramas to land as rather predictable.
Given my Serious Children’s Play lens that I was using, I was also not fussed about Show being loose or vague with logical details like how Dal shows up again at the end of our story, when she’d disappeared before (like, where’d she go, and how’d she come back?).
In the end, it’s enough that thanks to Rembrary’s healing touch, she regains enough of her memories to recognize him, and thanks to the bracelet that she’s still wearing, he manages to remember her too.
Again, I’m ignoring the corner of my brain that wonders how all this works, because, Serious Children’s Play.
All in all, this was not the fun romp that I’d signed up for, but it was.. not the most terrible thing I ever watched?
Your mileage may vary, of course, but I’m fairly certain that most viewers would come away from this one, feeling like Show would’ve done much better, if it’d known to quit while it was ahead. 😛
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Rather amusing in spots, but largely underwhelming, overall.
FINAL GRADE: C+
The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of The Heavenly Idol, is Silent [Japan]. I’ve taken an initial look at Silent and I’m happy to say that I like it very well, and right away, too. 🤩
You can check out my E1 & 2 notes on Silent on Patreon here.
Here’s an overview of what I’m covering on Patreon right now (Tier benefits are cumulative)!
Foundation Tier (US$1): Entertainment tidbits + the first set notes of all shows covered on Patreon (that’s 2 episodes for kdramas and 4 episodes for cdramas)
Early Access (US$5): True To Love (Bo Ra! Deborah) [Korea]
Early Access Plus (US$10): +Silent [Japan]
VIP (US$15): +Nothing But You [China]
VVIP (US$20): +Our Blooming Youth [Korea]
Ultimate (US$25): +Call It Love [Korea]