Legend of the Blue Sea: Episode 5

[Once again, this is a joint entry with my wife, with her comments indicated in italics as being from Woman-in-my-life. :)]

The show turns in one of its most enjoyable episodes yet, which was light-hearted, engaging while shedding just the right amount of light on its mermaid mythology. The Joseon sequences are once again beautifully shot, tense and well-paced as the threat on Sae-wa grows and we finally learn too that the painting on the vase was done by Dam-Ryung based on his dream. He also adds that events of the past will certainly repeat themselves in the future, and we get a nice paralleling of him riding on a horse to save Sae-wa with Joon-Jae riding in a car to save Shim Chung.

While there are parallels between past and present, I appreciate that there are clear differences and that the present is not simply a rehash of the past. Unlike Sae-wa, the present day mermaid, Shim Chung, is fearless and able to defend herself against physical attacks, though she’s certainly less savvy. Dam-Ryung stands on the side of the law as the mayor and people look to him to mete out justice and protect them. Jae-Joon does have a social justice agenda, but his approaches run counter to the law, or can be said to even be above the law. This is made evident by him ramming through police barricades and offending policemen in his attempt to save Shim Chung. In the Joseon storyline, Dam Ryung simply accepts that his memories have been lost, whereas modern-day Joon Jae is persistent to find out the truth. In light of these contrasts, I’m also hoping at some point that Dam-Ryung’s claim that the present will echo the past will be broken, or there will be some creative way of circumventing the “strong hand of fate”.

Coming back to the episode itself, it really reinforces the fact that the show does so well when it keeps both Shim Chung and Joon Jae together and the episode is so strong because we spend almost all our time with them. Lee Min Ho and Jeon Ji-hyun have great comedic chemistry together and every conversation between both of them is just so delightful to watch. Perhaps I’m already immune to it, but Shim Chung’s childish antics did not grate at me at all in this episode and I found them largely amusing. Jae-Joon’s teasing of her when she asks about the people in TV was also fun to watch.

[Woman in My Life: the show is rather aware of its construct as a show, and pokes fun at some Korean drama genres, such as the TV melodrama which Shim Chung is so absorbed in, and the horror drama, as with the pulled-back shots of her disembodied long hair peering out from the attic bedroom. Remove these bits of media and social (re: living debt-free and homeless, versus having a fancy home and worries/ debt that Husband discusses later on) commentary and you have *don’t knock me* what is a fairly typical rom-com, except that the agency is reversed and it is the female lead who pursues the male. I am hoping that this romantic plot, having been set up rather neatly, will be subverted soon.]

While the first few episodes relied a lot on coincidences and “fate” to pull Joon-Jae and Shim Chung together, I appreciate that their being kept together is motivated by more than just fate, but by Joon-Jae’s desire to watch out for the underdogs, as emphasised by Nam Doo when he realises that Joon-Jae has chased her away. It’s also nice that he’s not simply falling in love with her because of her antics or some unexplainable connection. At this point, what he feels for her is simply compassion and protectiveness. He wants to watch out for her, defend her and help her to succeed in finding a place in society and he will use all means possible to help her.

Underlying the antics of this episode is also a commentary on possessions and wealth, which is coming on pretty strong especially through the fellow beggar who ploughs through thrown away clothes with Joon-Jae. She points to those who own homes and calls them money-rich, but debt poor, being enslaved to the banks. Shim Chung may have completely nothing right now – no connections, no money, no home – but in that sense, she’s also completely free, with nothing to worry about except her single-minded focus of pursuing Joon Jae. The person who contrasts the most with her now may be Jin Joo, who even though has tonnes of money and aims to renew her wardrobe, is trapped in the need to please others and put on a front so as to seek others’ approval.

Another thread that’s quietly building up in the background is also Joon-Jae’s rather complicated family dynamics. The second wife of his dad wants to seek him out and even kill him, but her son, Chi-hyun, has a separate agenda and intervenes just as she receives his address. Chi-hyun has vested interest in this and wants to meet Joon-Jae, attempting to get his dad to go along with him, but we learn that things are not as straightforward as his dad is looking into things because his Head of Department Nam has instructed him to – which is intriguing. Chi-hyun then warns his dad against letting his mum know of his intentions to find Joon Jae. What’s brewing here seems largely interesting but I did find it convenient to have Chi-hyun enter the storyline by hitting Shim Chung down with a car. Perhaps we’ll learn eventually too that he has a historical parallel – since the show seems to want to convince us that everybody has a historical parallel figure, down to even the child who can read Shim Chung’s thoughts.

A commonly-cited criticism of this series is its lack of plot, particularly in the present day story. A similar criticism could be levelled against this episode as nothing much really happens in the big scheme of things, but it’s ultimately still enjoyable and engaging because things are being set in place and we see our characters driving the story ahead through their motivations and actions. The accident at the end was quite jarring and seemed like a rather artificial way to delay the breaking of the truth, but I’m hoping this is adequately addressed in the next episode.

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Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim Episode 8: Manifestation of Humanism

In my previous review, I mentioned that it was good that the show was extending the patients’ storylines across more than one episode, as it would give us an opportunity to know them better. Yet today, for both the hostage situation and the family who couldn’t afford to treatment, I found the emotional impact rather lacking. For both, there was a lot of fury, a lot of shouting and physicality, but at the end of both mini-storylines, I was left feeling that the emotional impact would have been stronger if there was less on-screen intensity.

For the poor family storyline, I actually found the previous episode’s simple exchange between Seo-jung and the mum and daughter more powerful, because the performances were more measured thus allowing the emotions to really speak for themselves. All the shouting, crying and slapping got rather grating after a while. As for the whole hostage storyline, the sequences were so frenetic and over-the-top that I couldn’t connect to the situation and feel for the whole situation. We have the father holding Seo-jung at knife point, repeatedly threatening to slash her throat (after about the 2nd or 3rd time, you knew he wasn’t going to do it). Then, we have a whole troop of police forces storming the hospital, scenes of the hospital being evacuated (against the background music of “Hey Jude”) and then his wife and daughter arriving. If there was less scuffling within the operating room and removal of the scenes of patients being evacuated, there could have been more focus on the turmoil of both the father and the surgeons.

What I did like a lot about the hostage sequence though was how there was so much conveyed through the eyes of the surgeons, because they all had their masks on. Nurse Oh’s expressions were certainly fascinating to watch as she moves from concern, to uncertainty, to relief. There’s also meaningful exploration through both storylines of the roles of doctors within society – what is within their sphere of influence and what isn’t, and whether they should try to over-step those boundaries. In the hostage storyline, the issue is whether it’s the doctor’s choice to decide who to treat. As they are bound by their oath, they can’t make that choice, yet Master Kim does thread a very thin line. When he leaves the man in the operating room on his own, he leaves the patient open to danger. Even though we can argue that Master Kim knows that the man won’t kill him, his decision to walk out is a step towards playing the role of a judge. We later learn through Nurse Oh and In Bum that he also missed out a critical step – the dura repair. I tried googling it and came up with nothing useful, so I’d appreciate if anyone could help enlighten me here! Nonetheless, it is strongly hinted that Master Kim does not fully treat the rapist and leaves him permanently disabled, thus in a way taking justice into his own hands.

There’s also something really beautiful and almost romantic about the way Master Kim protects the sanctity of the operating room through getting all the surgeons to stay in their positions and maintaining his dominant presence over what’s going on. Even while the father continues to get angrier and threaten with greater vehemence, Master Kim remains unruffled in his negotiations and because of his stability, nobody else moves from their position. As he completes the surgery, he’s in total control and he gradually dispatches people out of the room, before he leaves too while appealing to the man’s heart of a father. It’s intelligent the way he takes what motivates the man’s violence to turn it against him, by telling him that murdering the rapist will not allow him to be the father that he should be to his daughter. There’s such an quiet, steady heroism in Master Kim throughout the incident that you can’t help but be drawn to him.

Following the hostage situation, we get to see the core relationships in the show moving ahead. We’re really starting to see Master Kim smile more and the exchange between him and Seo Jung was really quite heartwarming, where he scolds her for being so submissive to him and blaming herself, yet he also praises her:

You did well. You dealt with it well.” (Master Kim to Seo Jung)

Han Suk Kyu is an amazing actor and he conveys so much through his entire body language, like the shrug of his shoulders, the furrowing of his brows. Seo Hyun-Jin fares very well in this scene too and her childlike delight when being praised by Master Kim is such a joy to watch.

While Dong-joo as a character is difficult to like, I always enjoy his exchanges with Master Kim because they are so raw and energetic. Dong-joo’s unabashed honesty elicits similar bluntness from Master Kim and in this episode, we learn that he could barely keep himself in control, but he tries his best to wrap things up without anyone getting hurt. We finally hear him talk about his romantic ideals, and while it’s not romantic in Dong-joo’s sense, Master Kim’s concept of ‘romantic’ is more aligned with romanticism, which is associated a return to what makes us human, like passion, intuition and wonder. Dong-joo once again invites upon himself some scathing criticism as Master Kim tells him that he can’t stand to see Dong-joo’s sense of inferiority and self-accusation, which causes him to struggle with being defeated. He points out Dong-joo’s flaw in focusing on doing a good job, without thinking about the meaning behind it. Dong-joo’s expression upon hearing that is so telling – he has nothing else left to say and looks as if a quiet revelation has come upon him. He realises he may have been so caught up proving himself to be the “best” doctor, that he has lost sight of what it really means to just be a doctor. It’s a very meaningful lesson and personally a powerful one for me too in my own profession.

Another huge fall-out from the hostage incident is President Do sending a team to investigate the incident and Seo-Jung’s PTSD with the ultimate aim of shutting down Doldam hospital. Once again, the show displays no qualms in painting President Do as being completely evil as he advises the psychologist to push Seo-Jung hard, even if it causes her to crumble. As expected, Seo-Jung emerges victorious through the questioning and is able to keep her PTSD under control. However, this wasn’t as glorious a moment for me because I felt that we were shortchanged from observing her whole journey of overcoming that. Given that her PTSD was rooted in what happened with her boyfriend and she hears voices from him, it would have been good if the show explored how she relieved herself of that guilt and made peace with it. On a related note, we still don’t know what happened in the five years between her falling down in the mountains and us meeting her again in Doldam Hospital. How did her relationship with Master Kim begin? Actually, it would be really nice if such backstory was juxtaposed against Master Kim’s praise of her in this episode.

While Seo Jung experiences victory, Master Kim doesn’t seem to fare so well and it seems like his fate is on the line. Just then, Dong-joo wheels in Chairman Shin, which throws a wrench in Dr Song’s plans to prevent Master Kim from operating on Chairman Shin. What’s going to happen next? I have to say I’m genuinely keen to find out more. The series has been doing well thus far ratings-wise and this episode in particular performed excellently, ranked first at at the nation-wide and Seoul AGB ratings at 23.3%! It’s not hard to see why because the characters are ultimately compelling and the storylines are relatively straightforward, while exploring meaningful ethical issues. As long as it continues to tighten up its focus on its characters and build them up more fully, I can foresee that it will continue to attract more viewers to join in the ride.

Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim Episode 7: Unstable Factor

In my entry on Episode 6, I highlighted two concerns I had – the first was the direction the show was taking with Master Kim and the second was with the introduction of the Geodae team into Doldam Hospital.

For the first concern, I’m thankful for the perspectives shared on both soompi forums and on my blog regarding how his desire for the latest technology does not detract from his focus on saving lives as it is his attempt to help Doldam Hospital become more effective as an organisation in treating its patients. I was initially uncomfortable with how he kept adding new conditions in order to do the surgery for Chairman Shin, but thinking more deeply, that’s not beyond him as well given that it’s an opportunity for him to get back at President Do. It’s also aligned with the characterisation of Master Kim as a more edgy, grungy character, not your gentle, nurturing, refined doctor, but one who’s rough and pushes his way through to get his way.

As for my second concern, it was largely assuaged by this episode because I quite enjoyed the interactions with the new mix of characters in our midst. The character I’m loving the most is In-soo whose trapped in this struggle between hospitals, having had to leave his family behind after being told at the last minute to come to Doldam Hospital. Unlike most characters who are caught up in the race for success or excellence, In-soo is more down to earth, concerned more about his family. His interactions with Dong-joo and Seo-jung are thus very straightforward, without any hidden agenda and he plays the role of a friendly and brotherly figure. At the other end of the spectrum, we have In-Bum who has been sent here with an agenda to prove himself. While his surly and curt personality is not immediately endearing, he presents the other side of the coin, that the sons of those in power are also not always in an enviable position. I would argue that In-Bum is even more trapped than Dong-joo as he becomes a pawn between his dad and Master Kim, even while he’s genuinely trying to do good.

Higher up in the scheme of things there’s Dr. Song who immediately lays bare his agenda to Manager Kang (who continues to be hilarious, by the way) and promises promotion to Manager Kang if he digs some dirt out of Master Kim. He was unfortunately sidelined for most of this episode, with his decision to take the patient to a bigger hospital shot down by Seo-jung so quickly. Nonetheless, I do believe there are bigger things in store for him as the show builds up the storyline of how he devises a way to prevent Master Kim from operating on Chairman Shin.

As for our main protagonists, Dong-Joo is not doing too well this week and I’m starting to appreciate more how flawed he is as a protagonists. You think he’s making some progress, then he backtracks again once new obstacles come his way. At the end of the previous episode, he’s made some progress in Master Kim’s eyes, who now recognises his status as a fellow surgeon in the hospital. However, with In-Bum in the mix, that’s no longer the case and now the competition gets stiffer and the challenge then is really for Dong-joo to be able to put aside his pride to focus on patients. That’s immediately put to the test when Master Kim chooses Im-Bum to lead the surgery, with Dong-joo assisting. Dong-joo is still unable to put aside his pride and requires nudging from Seo-jung before he re-enters the operating room. On a side-note, there certainly is a lot of quarrelling and shouting going on in the operating rooms in this show, which certainly cannot be good for doctor’s concentration and morale!

Seo-Jung, on the other hand, really, really shines in this episode. She’s always been the bright spark of the series, but Seo Hyun-Jin really takes the character to a new level in this episode. The scene with her joking with Dong-joo about their special bond has to be my favourite scene between the two of them thus far. When Dong-joo says that he has a special connection with her, she teases him and asks him playfully, “Is there anything special? What is that”. Dong-joo starts to stammer, saying they have a special bond. She then looks at him with the most cheeky smile, asking “A special bond?”. It’s so funny to see her tease him and she eventually calls him “adorable”, which he finds insulting. She takes such delight in bantering with him and the scene is such a joy to watch.

You act just like a teenager”, she tells Dong-joo.

On the medical front, it was endearing to see her embrace all the medical equipment and even talk to them. She really embraces her work as a doctor with such a childlike joy and excitement that even Master Kim can’t help but smile as he sees her. I do think that’s the first time we’ve ever seen him smile! Later on, when handling the daughter and wife of a patient who needs targeted temperature treatment, she does so with a gentle and compassionate professionalism. At the back end, she pleads with Master Kim to make an exception for them and even when he refuses, she once again makes her own professional judgement to go ahead with the treatment. In terms of medical issues, I liked that the show introduced the social dimension regarding subsidies, as well as an interesting perspective offered by Seo-jung that “We treat patients, and people of high offices fix the world”.

In terms of plotting, the show is starting to extend the patients’ storylines across more than one episode, unlike previous episodes where patients’ treatment or death was confined just within an episode or a segment of it. I’ve never personally felt that there was a need for us to know the patients, because as it is, there’s already enough drama going in for our doctors. Nonetheless, this is an effective way to loosen up the narrative yet still maintain our engagement. It also allows for more depth in exploring certain medical issues, hence it’s a welcome move.

My only complaint in this episode was that we didn’t learn much more about Master Kim, but I’m sure that will be addressed subsequently. This episode was really about re-establishing the dynamics of the new team at Doldam and in that sense, I think it did pretty well even though I did feel the episode was less engaging than last week’s offerings.

The episode ends with a cliffhanger ending as our key players are trapped in the operating room, with a gun to Seo-jung’s head. What’s going to happen next will ultimately reveal the mettle and values of our characters and it’d be interesting to watch. I’m glad to also see that the show’s ratings have steadily increased, doing even better than the largely publicised “Legend of the Blue Sea”. The show’s gaining confidence and stability and here’s hoping things continue to improve from here.

My wife is having an affair this week Episode 10

Unlike previous episodes which were more relationship-focused, this episode had a different pace and tone to it, seeming almost like an action-thriller, which was a refreshing change from the previous episodes.

The whole stalker taking revenge storyline is very well done, beginning tensely with someone typing mysterious in the dark that he has traced that the wife is a graphic designer. This stalker’s first strike is amazingly staged. In the scene before, we see Hyun-Woo selecting flowers, his fingers going over a huge basket of flowers and asking whether he can include a card. The scene switches then to Soo Yeon’s office, where we see the deliveryman walking up the stairs with the baskets and passing it over to her. We are filled with anticipation and hope (if we haven’t watched the trailers, that is) as her staff all wow at the flowers and ask if it’s from her husband. It’s even a possible moment of redemption for her, given the gossip that’s been spreading about her separation. As she smiles to herself and opens the card, she realises to her shock and horror (and ours too) that the card contains a harsh and vengeful hand-written message, saying “I can’t ever forgive the one who betrayed her family. Your husband might have forgiven you, but I can’t forgive you.” It’s a shocking and chilling message, and Soo Yeon’s expression is immediately overcome with fear, while her colleagues around her wonder what has happened.

Following that, a tight and tense sequence of events unfold with Hyun Woo trying to stop the stalker from revealing Soo Yeon’s identity. The editing is deft and sharp, with events unfolding in a fast and furious manner. Hyun Woo pleads with the stalker to not do anything, but he’s insistent. Soo Yeon then reveals herself as a final resort to stop him. It seems like the stalker is going to reveal who she is, then Hyun Woo’s computer shuts down and upon restarting, we realise the forum community has rallied around him and flooded the forum with postings about how they’ve forgiven her. At the sidelines, the couple on the verge of divorce put their computer geekery to great use (which leads to very cool sequences of coding and hacking). They eventually identify the stalker’s location and pass the IP address to Hyun Woo. He tracks the stalker down and it turns out to be his boss (!), who is taking revenge because he is now suffering as a result of divorce (seriously, is there anyone in this show who isn’t divorced?). I had earlier expressed dissatisfaction that Soo Yeon let Hyun Woo off so easily for revealing their story online, so it was nice to see the consequences being explored. This consequences go beyond just Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon and we see how other forum users also use this incident as a way to move ahead in their own lives, whether it’s to reconcile with their spouses or to reflect on life choices.

The Yoon-ki and Ara storyline also takes a somewhat “action-packed” route this week with the key scene being the fight between Ara and the florist, which I honestly found disturbing. I have lost interest in the storyline, but I do appreciate that we no longer see Yoon-Ki philandering without consequences and divorce is on the cards for him, which at this point seems almost too easy.

Looking at both the Hyun Woo-Soo Yeon and Yoon-ki-Ara storylines, it’s clear that the show is taking predominantly the husband’s perspective in exploring both. The wife is largely silenced for most of it; their thoughts and emotions get little air-time compared to their husbands. More seriously, their emotions are presented rather simplistically, with Soo Yeon expressing mostly guilt and Ara now being angry and seeking revenge. I really would have wished we had more time to hear from them, especially to understand what was going through Ara’s mind and why she endured Yoon Ki’s philandering for so long. Actually, if we look at Joon-Young’s marriage, his wife’s perspective is completely silent – in fact, we don’t even hear a word from her this week and the news of him divorcing her is merely presented to us through him telling Bo Young. It’s so deliberately done that I’m left wondering why the women’s journeys are so under-explored in this series. While I respect the writers’ choices, there is definitely amiss when we don’t hear the other side.

As the episode comes to a close, we have a heartfelt conversation between Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon. He apologises to Soo Yeon for not noticing how much she has done over the years and for leaving her alone. He shares how he was always proud that they had not fought for over eight years; however, the truth was that were so many things he didn’t know. Soo Yeon apologises too for leaving a big scar on Joon-Soo and him. He then tells her that they should forget everything and moves forward to hug her. And as he hugs her, the memories of her with the other man flash in his head and he pulls back. He tries again, but the memories overwhelm him – forgiving may be easy, but forgetting isn’t. I admire the show for being brave enough to resist the easy way out by sweeping everything under the carpet. Even at episode 10, we still aren’t aware if they are going to get back together and this reflects the real difficulty of rebuilding a marriage after trust has been lost. It’s not something that an apology or even, repeated apologies will resolve. It often takes years to even regain that trust.

The episode closes with a scene of Boo Young discovering that she’s pregnant, which comes to me as a real shocker as I was enjoying the relative simple, problem-free romance between her and Joon-Young. It’s also surprising because we’re entering the final two episodes of the series and I wonder how it can tie together so many loose ends. While the show has certainly been a refreshing in the way it approaches a difficult issue, I’m left wondering and even worrying about the kind of message that will emerge at the end of the show. I’m hoping that the show at the very least manages to do justice to Soo Yeon’s character and we see some growth for her in this marriage.

Healer: Finale

healerfinale

[Image credits: dramabeans.com]

And it’s over!

Expectations are always high for finales, especially for this show which has displayed such masterful storytelling and characterisation throughout. I won’t deny being a tad disappointed because there were certain resolutions and back-stories I would have liked fleshed out more. Honestly, this is one show that certainly justifies being extended for at least two more episodes and that’s truly to its credit because it has built such a compelling world with characters that are so well fleshed out and relatable that there’s just so much more we want to know about them.

The experience of Healer was definitely one of a kind, where the viewing experience went beyond just watching a TV show to being immersed in its world each week. As someone who loves good writing, there was such joy to witness a story being so gracefully and purposefully developed across the span of 20 episodes, with never a moment wasted. Well, enough of gushing, and on to what happens in the finale!

The Final Showdown

As hinted at in the previous episode, Jung Hoo takes proactive steps in the war with Healer, embarking on a mission that is fraught with uncertainty and danger. He steps into Elder’s territory and deceives him into believing that he has shifted his loyalties. By doing so, he gradually leads Elder and his team into a trap that he’s thoughtfully set up. It’s a well-crafted, intelligent, risky plan that’s certainly a joy to watch unfolding. Most importantly, it’s a plan that Jung Hoo cannot execute on his own, which is a nice contrast to the first episode where we saw him being similarly sharp and smooth, but working on his own with ahjumma.

The airport becomes a tense battleground, where we see Jung Hoo trying to convince Double S that he’s on their side while also executing sneaky moves beneath their very eyes to shift the ball to his court. Someday News plays a prominent role again as Young Shin cordons off a toilet and converts it into an interview room for Kim Jae-yoon, while Moon-ho simultaneously coordinates with the team back in office to begin a live feed. They begin to expose the footage of the village in health crisis, cutting to the interview with Jae-yoon. Even before she says much, Jung Hoo jumps in to stage a capture of her, dragging her out while also instructing her to scream. As he pulls her out, he passes the fake vial of bacteria over to Manager Ahn while she flees, unaware that another assassin is waiting to plunge a syringe into her. Jung-hoo aims his gun at the assassin and the police force led by Detective Yoon enter. A gun-shot is fired and we initially have no idea who’s shot, but we finally see that it’s Jung-Hoo, who collapses to the ground. This creates enough distraction for the assassin and allows the police to apprehend all the forces of Double S.

We quickly learn that the whole shooting was staged through a funny sequence of Jung Hoo rehearsing how he would fall after being shot and then Moon-ho and him smiling to Detective Yoon as he lies down in a pool of blood. Through ajumma’s genius manipulation, the whole incident is framed as the death of Bong Soo, who was assigned by Omega Holdings to kill Jae-yoon. The video of Elder talking to Russian scientists is also exposed and with that, Elder is finally taken down.

It’s such an elaborate plan with so many moving parts, yet it never feels confusing or difficult to follow. What’s impressive also is how the show inserts little sweet moments within this entire sequence, the first being Jung Hoo calling Moon-Ho “Uncle”. Moon-ho is evidently overjoyed at this acknowledgement, but he hides his smile, so as not to expose the entire plan. After ahjumma announces that the flight has arrived, she starts humming to herself, which leads to adoring reactions from both Jung Hoo and Young Shin, especially Young Shin who smiles to herself as she sets up her interview room. The final sweet moment was Young-Shin’s quiet expression of concern to Jung Hoo when he barges into the toilet, asking him quietly to stop. He doesn’t say anything, but just looks at her with determination in his eyes and she relents. We see in the four of them not just a team, but a close group of friends who understand each other and care deeply for each other.

Where our characters are at

As with all episodes of Healer, there’s always that perfect balance between action-packed sequences and wonderful character moments. This episode certainly wasn’t short of them and to do full justice to the finale, I’ll go through this character by character, talking about what I liked but also what I would have liked to see.

Moon-Shik: We only spend a brief moment with him, but we see that Myung-Hee’s departure has left him in depression and he spends the evenings drunk and hallucinating, talking to an imaginary Gil-han. It’s a creepy, haunting sequence, but somewhat befitting of what we’ve learnt of him so far that he has a distorted view of reality. With Myung Hee’s departure, he continues to live in delusion, exalting himself once again as he tells Gilhan that he has loved for twenty to thirty years and his ten years is nothing compared to his. I would have liked to see more closure between him and Elder, following Myung-Hee’s departure, but what we see provides us with sufficient balance of giving him the comeuppance he deserves, while also allowing us to sympathise with him, just a little bit.

Myung-Hee: While we never get to actually hear Young Shin call Myung-Hee “Mum” or for her to call Young Shin “Ji-Ahn”, what we get in this episode is equally powerfully. She holds Young Shin’s hands tightly as she arrives at the cafe and looks at her knowingly. It’s amazing how often the characters in the show speak through just their eyes and this is one of those moments where you know that she already knows the truth. What follows is a sweet and heartwarming sequence of Myung-Hee flipping through past photo albums, which Young Shin’s dad talks about with such love and pride. An actual mother-daughter reunion would have been nice, but honestly, all the scenes between the two of them have been so powerful and emotional in the past few episodes, that I’m satisfied with where the finale left us off at. It would also have been nice to have Young Shin bring Jung Hoo to meet Myung Hee.

Chi-Soo (Young Shin’s adoptive father): Besides the scene with Myung-Hee, he also continues to delight with his protectiveness over Young Shin. You would have expected him to be impressed after Jung Hoo frees him from the kidnappers, but his reaction is “How can I trust someone whose name keeps changing?”. It was also hilarious to watch Jung-Hoo hug Young-Shin for five seconds as the dad watched on, with his assistant counting down. His cafe eventually becomes the hideout for our good guys, which is somewhat apt given his protective presence over Young Shin’s life throughout. He may not have been part of the emotional core of the series, but I really enjoyed every scene with him and you know he’ll always be there for Young Shin.

Ahjumma: She had many lovely quirky moments in this episode, including her reprimand of Moon-ho at the car park and her irritation with him when she’s trying to work. Her scene with Detective Yoon in the toilet was just laugh out loud funny when she teased him about his fly. Just like Jung-Hoo, she’s spent most of her life in the shadows and it was nice to see her enjoying ice-cream with Detective Yoon and we’re pretty certain there’ll be a happy ending to their story. As for her story, I would have liked to know how she got co-opted into being the behind-the-scenes woman and actually, how the whole premise of night-couriers and having “Healers” began in the first place. Nonetheless, this is just a point of interest and not critical for her characterisation.

She’s been such a joy to watch for the entire series with all her quirks and tough love for Jung Hoo. Having lost faith in the police force, she eventually relies on it through Detective Yoon to close the case that she left the force without solving. We had earlier seen how she was accused by her husband of being a bad mum. However, having seen Jung-Hoo mature and take leadership in this episode, I’m certain she’s proud for having “raised” him and happy that he’s now found someone he loves.

Moon-ho: He’s been such an amazing character to watch from the start, all credit to Yoo Ji-tae’s fantastic portrayal. From the start, we’ve seen him tormented with guilt as he watches his sister-in-law Myung Hee suffering as a result of his and his brother’s actions. His journey of redemption has certainly not been smooth, but we’ve seen him emerge from the person who simply works in the background to someone who’s now not afraid to be at the forefront even in the face of danger. His decision to do a live broadcast of a potential crime scene is certainly a bold one that displays his growth.

On the family front, he’s finally able to provide for Myung-Hee by giving her a home, emerging also from under his older brother’s shadows. Young Shin’s acceptance of him as her uncle was never difficult, perhaps because she had idolised him from young. While Jung Hoo struggled initially, he has in recent episodes displayed his acceptance of Moon-ho too, enlisting his help to watch out for Young Shin when he’s unable to. Even though this episode was the first time we heard Jung Hoo call Moon-ho “Uncle”, he has already acknowledged him as that long before. It’s a pity that we never got to see that scene of three of them enjoying beers and it would have once again been nice, but not necessary, to see the three of them reminiscing on all the lost memories over the years.

I’m very glad that Song Ji-na did not take the route of establishing a love triangle between him, Jung Hoo and Young Shin. Moon-ho’s character was one that never really needed a romantic angle and him walking off happily with Min-jae at the end is simply icing on the cake, that additional sweetness to the ending of his very compelling and satisfying story.

Young-Shin:  If I had to summarise her character with one line, it would be what Jung Hoo says of her in episode 5, and what draws her to him in the first place:

She is like a leopard I saw in a documentary once. The leopard had a broken leg and had run into a hyena. The leopard was hurt and it was clear there was no chance. The leopard attacked first. The leopard did not back down. She’s like that too. It’s not that she’s brave because she doesn’t know any better. She is brave despite knowing how scary it is. 

I’ve always appreciated that mix of vulnerability and courage in Young Shin, whether it’s in her job or in her relationships. Young Shin has grown so much throughout the series as a journalist and as a person.  She may have lots of fears, but she puts them aside when there’s a greater cause at hand, whether it’s for the sake of truth or for her loved ones and that’s what makes her admirable. When we see her at the end driving a car, partnering with Jung Hoo in pursuit of the truth, it’s a moment worth celebrating as we see her overcoming her fears, while continuing the legacy of her parents with the man she loves. She gets her wish of finally getting an interview with Healer, as we realise the scenes of Jung Hoo speaking into a video camera are directed at her. This “interview” was a really intelligent way of the show bringing back previous sweet scenes and memories without doing what most shows do of having a montage that appears out of nowhere. We don’t ultimately see what the video is used for, but it’s presumably an interview that Jung Hoo prepared in case the mission didn’t go smoothly.

Huge props to Park Min Young for playing the character of Young Shin so lovingly and convincingly; she really took on the character and made it her own. I cannot imagine any other actress playing her.

Jung Hoo: We witness Jung Hoo reaching a milestone in his journey of self-discovery. The death of Bong Soo is symbolic of him, finally deciding that he no longer needs a disguise to be in a real world and bringing his “real” self. This comes out immediately in the scene where he reveals himself to Young Shin’s dad while taking down the attacker. While he’s comfortable when needing to take physical action, he still stumbles in conversation as evident when he tries to explain the situation to Young Shin’s dad. Young Shin jumps in and Jung Hoo can only offer short replies in agreement to her story (which was so hilarious). He subsequently hugs her confidently in front of her dad and comes back intending to kiss her, only to retreat and tell her to take care of herself – yet another LOL moment. Compared to his previous behaviour with her dad where he was cowering in fear and stammering, this was a huge leap ahead, but we know he still has room for improvement.

When he sneaks into Someday’s office to take the recording, even the colleagues there can sense that there’s something different about him and he no longer hides behind the Bong Soo identity, emerging more confident and even pinches Jong-soo’s cheek on his way out. While this is eventually not told to us, my sense is that he eventually continues on at Someday as Jung-Hoo, while still playing his role as a night courier/Healer when the need calls for it. He has finally found a balance between being in society and outside of society as its saviour and we can’t help but be happy for him.

Final note

And with that, this ends my reviewing journey for Healer too. It is somewhat neat for my blogging journey as this entry (which was also coincidentally my longest entry) marks the 50th entry for my blog, which WordPress has nicely notified me of:

50posts

I’d like to thank all those who’ve followed my entries, encouraging me with your kind words and also offering your opinions. Healer has certainly been the best drama I’ve written about so far and the viewing journey has definitely been enhanced by writing and talking about it. Am eagerly awaiting the next drama that can make me as excited and engaged as this!

I’ve also read lots of good stuff on the Healer on the finale and would like to share a few sites that I enjoyed a lot:

  • Dramabean’s recap and comments on the Healer finale: Dramabeans has always been my companion through all k-dramas and javabeans manages to capture the beauty and brilliance of the series so well in the review. The comments section also serve as a wonderful read as there are always so many differing and enlightening opinions.
  • Couch Kimchi’s review: This is a more balanced take on the finale, pointing out some of its flaws but overall still recognising it as one of the better finales. I always love their critical and humorous take on dramas.
  • Dramapenchant’s series’ review of Healer: This is a review of the series, rather than just the finale but it contains a lot of very insightful analysis and great lines – loved the one about UNESCO needing to preserve Ji Chang Wook’s smile!

My Wife is having an affair this week Episode 9

(Image credits: itechpost.com)

My experience watching and writing about drama series has led me to realise that it’s more productive to focus on what the show does, instead of on what the show doesn’t do. This allows you to truly appreciate what the writer is trying to do and judge it on its own standards. This realisation became very important for me when viewing this episode.

Joon-Soo’s feelings and experience of marital breakdown

Ever since the beginning of the series, I’ve hoped that the show will take explore the impact of marital breakdown on the child through Joon-Soo. This is because my conversations with colleagues handling divorce issues previously has often surfaced the fact that the child’s voice is often what is neglected when parents undergo divorce. This was part of my great disappointment in the previous episode, which piled on a series of unfortunate incidents on Joon-Soo without exploring his feelings. Episode 9 continues to gloss over the feelings of Joon-Soo, as all that he expressed in the hospital bed in Episode 8 is not picked up on. I would have liked to see Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon at least talk about how they would respond to Joon-Soo’s desire for both of them to be together and why they decided to put aside his feelings for the sake of their own. However, we get none of that and the episode begins with Hyun Woo’s scrambling to get Joon-Soo ready for school and then bringing him to office when the school has a day off.

Viewing the first third of the episodes make it clearer that the series has never intended to explore his feelings, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With that realisation, I was able to appreciate the role of Joon-Soo better and see that the show wanted to use him as a way to highlight the challenges of working parents and how both parents need to work together. He’s also used to good comedic effect in this episode and I laughed out loud at his straightforward, child-like manner of telling Bo Young and Joon Young that they liked each other. I liked also how the show portrayed Hyun Woo’s awkwardness when being a part of a chat group between the mums, being bombarded with messages and wondering how he should reply. It’s such a real and contemporary issue, as I have many parent friends with primary school kids sharing with me how crazy these parent whatsapp groups can be. I applaud the show for portraying this so realistically through its format with the layering of the text messages over the scene and Lee Sun-Kyun’s very animated face which often tells so much without even having to say anything.

Soo Yeon’s journey

While the lack of exploration of the child’s feelings is understandable, one area I do find quite lacking in the show is the perspective of the woman, specifically Soo Yeon. Ever since the truth came out, we’ve had repeated apologies from her and expressions of guilt and then she explanation about how she was on the verge of breaking down because she had tried to juggle the roles of mum and career-woman well. However, we’ve not had a chance to explore further her feelings about the marriage and particularly Hyun Woo.

Soo Yeon does mention at the end of ep7 that she should have came to Hyun Woo first about her feelings of being over-stretched, but we don’t go beyond that. Why is she so estranged from  him? Why did she not share her feelings with him? How did he make her feel over the years of their marriage? Surely she has had a role to play too in them growing apart. By relation, what is her process of growth and maturation through this all, besides apologising and regretting the affair? We are very clear about how Hyun Woo has grown, but we don’t know how Soo Yeon has developed through this – in fact, has she even learnt anything about how she could have prevented their marriage from growing apart? We are already three-quarters through the series and yet we have little insight into her growth and journey. While I do understand the value of telling the story through one perspective, the show runs the risk therefore of silencing the woman’s voice from this all.

Soo Yeon’s journey is explored mainly from the lens of being a working mum and we have barely seen it being explored from the perspective of being a wife. From that perspective, she does have some victory in this episode as she stands up to her extremely condescending and irritating boss, but given that the show has already started exploring Soo Yeon’s emotional journey as a wife, it should pursue that further and show her growth.

Hyun Woo

On the other end, we see Hyun Woo taking concrete steps in this episode to rebuild his relationship with Soo Yeon and that involved him seizing the right timing, by offering to send her back after they’d spent a night with friends. Unlike most k-dramas, I really appreciate that the soundtrack for this series is more muted and subtle, and key moments are not over-played. Him seizing the moment to fetch Soo Yeon back is not overplayed for dramatic effect; it is instead a quiet, small moment of victory, that allows him just to share his realisations of how much he has done. There are a lot of nice, quiet moments between him and Soo Yeon in this episode, as they slowly rebuild their relationship – this is very real, because reconciliation is a long, step-by-step and difficult process. There’s no rush to quickly reconcile the both of them, and I appreciated that they start off first by just spending time together at the end of the episode, learning to be friends again.

It’s also very heartwarming to see that Hyun Woo has such a supportive community of colleagues around him, especially Boo Young and Joon Young who have the most sweet, lovely scenes in this episode as they take care of Joon-Soo. The both of them are certainly bring so much joy, sweetness and hope in this series.

Impact of social media

As the episode ends, there are hints of impending danger to Soo Yeon as a member of the forum community has decided to take things into his own hands. Now, I was really impressed by this direction because the forum community is thrown to the forefront and the show takes a hard look at both the merits and demerits of social media. While the forum itself becomes the platform for Soo Yeon and Hyun Woo to reconnect, it also becomes dangerous and this is explored further in the next episode, which I thought was fantastic. I had previously expressed unhappiness that Soo Yeon’s anger over Hyun Woo’s forum posting was so quickly glossed over, mainly because I had wished the show explored the consequences of him pouring his life out so openly. This upcoming development provides ample opportunity to explore the consequences and is therefore something I strongly welcome. It also adds a great amount of excitement and tension of a more action-packed nature to this series, which is something I never expected. The cliffhanger ending really makes me excited to see what will happen next.

Healer Episode 19

Healer continues to shine in its penultimate episode, where there is no shortage of exciting plot developments, solid character interactions and deep exploration of issues of identity. This is a longer entry than usual, but do indulge me as I’d like to give full credit to all the great work that’s being done in this episode. To make it easier to follow, I’ll break up this entry into sections.

The war with Elder

The war between Elder and our good guys continues to fascinate me and it was delightful to watch how the ball kept shifting from the baddie’s court to the good guy’s court throughout. This kept the tension, suspense and excitement at a high!

We start off with the victory clearly in Elder’s team, as they’ve captured both Moon-Ho and Young Shin in order to get what they want through a very well-coordinated plan. I continue to be impressed with how the writer makes both our good guys and bad guys very credible opponents for each other. Manager Ahn, who has only been introduced recently, is certainly intelligent, scheming and quick-thinking. While I’m on the side of our good guys, I did enjoy watching him gradually corner Jung Hoo through many different tactics.

In order to save Young Shin, Jung Hoo finally confesses and agrees to be hired by Elder. However, he quickly regains the advantage by going into hiding and working with Min-ja to expose the four who were involved in Dong Chul’s killing. He manages to break into their hide-out to obtain all their finger-prints, which Min-ja sends to Detective Yoon. In addition, he also gains entry into the Double S security headquarters.  Just as things are looking good for our good guys, we see that Manager Ahn’s team has identified Min-ja’s hiding location and sent a team to take her out, which Jung-Hoo only realises at the last minute. He runs to her rescue and they manage to escape in the nick of time and all of this leads Jung Hoo to realise he needs to up his offensive and really take out Elder. This continually shifting power is fun and engaging to watch and keeps the energy level high till the end, when we finally see the four good guys walking together, ready for war – which was such an amazing scene by the way!

Character Interactions 

In the midst of the ongoing war, there’s still plenty of very solid interactions between our characters and it’s great that all the key characters have an important role to play in this war.

Underlying the ongoing war between Elder and the good guys is the tension between Moon-ho and Moon-shik, which has always been well handled. Here, we see Moon-Shik’s attempt to protect his brother from further harm by Elder by making him the head of Jaeil Newspaper. We know that Elder had plans to eradicate Moon Ho, hence I was actually convinced that Moon-Shik had intervened to save his brother. When they retire into the study, we once again see Moon-Shik’s delusion as he genuinely believes that Jung-hoo’s hiring by Elder will be good for him. However, Moon-Shik’s confident demeanour shatters when Moon-ho talks about how he has been tormented by the lies he had to tell and eventually exposes the truth about Ji-Ahn. Yoo Ji-tae is always excellent and he really conveys Moon-ho’s state of tormented guilt very powerfully. This revelation that Ji-Ahn is still alive leads Moon-Shik to become anxious – a rare sight, indeed – and he immediately rips away the bug that Myung Hee has planted behind the photo frame. But it’s too late as Myung Hee finally realises the truth!

Realising that Moon-Shik has been hiding the truth from her all this while leads her to finally take decisive actions to leave him and I found that scene so brutal and powerful. We often see Moon-Shik and Myung Hee at the dining table, with Moon-Shik enjoying the spread prepared by her, hence the dining table was the perfect location for their parting to happen. The whole moment just sneaks upon Moon-Shik as Myung Hee thanks him for eating her food and for taking care of her all these years. The tone of what she says immediately causes Moon-Shik’s expression to change and he expresses such a tenderness and vulnerability that almost made me sympathise with him. We learn that Moon-Shik agreed to marry Myung Hee even after she told him that she couldn’t be his woman and also that she had struggled to love him all these years. It’s so sad to hear this as it shows how starved of affection and love Moon-Shik has been all this while, but he did bring all this upon himself. Moon-ho then steps in and Myung Hee decides to go off immediately, not giving Moon-Shik a chance to explain further as she goes to find her daughter. While the scene was certainly sad, there was also some satisfaction gained to see Moon-Shik finally get his comeuppance for all his deception.

I honestly felt genuinely happy for Myung-Hee when she entered the Someday office and was smiling all the way when the Someday team received her and especially when Young Shin started talking to her. We still don’t get the mother-daughter reunion, but that’s alright because their interactions are so delightful and charming to watch. Loved it when Young Shin snuck over to close the office door, then started to talk about her boyfriend with Myung-Hee. Park Min-Young once again nails it, putting in such a hilarious and adorable performance. Do Ji-won really plays Myung-Hee so perfectly, with such a radiant and nurturing presence. Myung-Hee also contributes to the ongoing war with Elder through an interview with Moon-Ho, where she exposes the truth about Omega Holdings which Moon-ho then links to Elder. Myung Hee has really been through such a hard time for most of this series, with little opportunity for happiness and I was really glad to see her finally experience joy and victory in this episode.

While things are going well for Young Shin in office and with her mum, things are less happy and cheery between her and Jung Hoo. While I did enjoy seeing them interact over the past few episodes, it was also good to have them apart for most of this episode, so that there’s space for both characters, particularly Jung Hoo, to pursue their own part in this battle with Elder. As Young Shin learns that she was used to manipulate Jung Hoo into partnering with Elder, she too knows that their temporary parting is for her own safety, but she can’t let go and asks to fight together with him. When she asks Jung Hoo when she will next see him, he has no answer for her, but can only hold her in his arms tightly. It’s such a moving scene, with so much emotions conveyed through both what is said and unsaid. While she is unable to be there by his side, Young Shin continues to play her part to support him, telling Moon-Ho that she wants to complete the 1992 story and will cover Jung Hoo’s part too. When asked if she’s afraid after being targeted by Elder, she uses a very cute analogy of zombies, where staying put is worse than fighting, because staying put means you’ll become a zombie too. She’s courageous not because she’s by nature fearless, but because that’s the only right response at this moment, in order to defend the truth and the man that she loves. Even while she’s apart from Jung Hoo, he still remains her confidante and she talks to him in her thoughts, asking him whether she should tell Myung Hee that she’s her daughter. The connection between both her and Jung Hoo remains strong, even as they are physically apart.

It was great to also see Min-ja being thrown into the battlefield this time as she becomes a target and the meeting between her and Jung-Hoo is truly humourous and fun. When he sees her running away, his first response is not that of anxiety, but to ask her, “You’re ajumma?” and even ask whether she wears that attire to meet people. It’s such a tense moment, but played so well for humour. Her subsequent interactions with Jung-hoo in the car are also such a delight to watch as she keeps looking away from him, but he keeps looking at her teasingly. I also loved that we got cute moments between her and Detective Yoon, whose crush on her is so evident in this episode and so charming. In the bigger scheme of things, the storyline of her leaving the police force and their investigations into the Omega holdings also becomes part of this war with Elder and it’s great to see all the different storylines just being pulled together. There’s a happy ending in sight for ajumma, not just in terms of her mission with Healer, but for her own personal journey and it’s really to the show’s credit that her journey was steadily developed over the series.

Jung Hoo & his search for identity

I’ve saved the best for last in this review and that would certainly be Jung Hoo’s journey. In the previous episode, we watched him struggle with adapting to the “normal” life. As he decides to take on the Bong Soo identity full-time, he becomes meek, socially awkward and continually tired. However, as he switches back to Healer mode in this episode, we see him sharp, energised and at ease with himself. The scenes of him trying different means to obtain the fingerprints were a nice reminder of how fun it was to watch Healer at work. I also loved seeing him breeze through the corridors of the headquarters of Double S security and finally just sit comfortably beside the guy monitoring what happened. It’s clear the normal life is not for him, or rather, that he can only fully be himself when doing what Healer does.

After passing the evidence to Dae Young at the river, he reflects on what’s going on and expresses his confusion. Even as he has learnt how to win, he does not know who he’s fighting against. Witnessing Min-ja being attacked makes him realise that he can no longer be reactive and simply take instructions from those who commission him. He realises that he needs to take ownership and leadership in this war. Following Teacher’s death, Moon-ho had told Jung-hoo to let him take action, because the issues with Moon-Shik and Elder were too complex for him. However, at this point, when Elder has threatened the lives of Moon-Ho, Young Shin and Min-Ja, Jung-Hoo realises that he can no longer just take instructions anymore. When he tells Min-ja at the end “I’m the Healer. Try trusting me”, it’s a great moment of victory and confidence for him as he is now giving direction to her, after having taken instructions from her all his life. I just read an interview with Song Ji-na and she responds to the question of what Jung-Hoo discovers with a quotation that she liked: “I can’t be free if the people around me aren’t free. Therefore, I fight for their freedom so that I may be free.” 

The episode ends with our four good guys, walking resolutely ahead ready for battle and we know that whatever the plan that unfolds has been developed by Jung Hoo. What an exciting and rewarding journey it has been to watch our hero grow through both the trials and the victories in his life! Compared to other shows where we enter the finale uncertain of whether we’ll get a happy or sad ending, I’m 100% sure that the ending of Healer will be a happy one. Our characters certainly deserve that happy ending after all they’ve been through. Can’t wait to watch the finale!

Legend of the Blue Sea Episode 4

[This is the second show I’m watching together with my wife and I’m loving the discussions we have about it. This review was done jointly with my wife and her additional responses are indicated in brackets as being from WIML – “the Woman in My Life”. LOL.]

As the plot thickens and more characters get introduced, we seem to be losing the zippy, fun energy that characterised the first two episodes where we could just focus on Joon-Jae and Sim Chung. While there certainly wasn’t a lack of plot progression, I did find this week’s episodes much less compelling to watch than last week’s offerings.

Part of the reason is that the other characters within the modern day storyline aren’t very interesting at the moment. Nam Doo, Joon-Jae’s partner-in-crime and best friend, is probably the most interesting character in the modern world besides our lead protagonists and his dynamics with Joon-Jae is fun to watch as there also seems to be something deeper going on between him and Shi-ah. However, besides him, the other characters in the modern world are currently quite bland, including Shi-ah. Another reason is due to the looser structure of the modern day storyline, where episode 3 was mostly about missed opportunities for Joon-Jae to meet Sim Chung and this episode was really about re-establishing the premise for Sim Chung to become part of Joon-Jae’s life. We do get some insights into Joon-Jae’s rather complex family background in this episode as we learn his dad, Chairman Heo, has been attempting to find him, which angers his wife so much that she has sent the fugitive, Dae-Young, to get rid of Joon-Jae.  However, even based on this, there doesn’t seem to be enough storyline to stretch across twenty episodes.

By comparison, the Joseon storyline fares significantly better because the characters are more compelling and storyline much tighter. We may not have seen Lord Yang much, but I always find his words carrying so much weight. The brief conversation he had with his giseang was so loaded and menacing as they put in place a scheme to spread rumours about the mermaid, while concurrently sending swordsmen after her. This is rapidly followed by growing anxiety amongst the villagers who then proceed to pressure Dam-Ryung to kill Sae-Wa. However, he decides to go find her because she has risked her life to come out and find him. The brief sequence ends with Dam-Ryung arriving in the nick of time to save Sae-Wa. There certainly is an energy to the Joseon storyline that I wished was more present in the modern day storyline.

What I liked about the modern day love story though was that although Joon-Jae’s memories had been removed, both him and Shim Chung do not start off from ground zero. (WIML: Thankfully so. Amnesia is always a plot cop-out, and once in a whole series is about what I can handle, two would be tiresome. I’m waiting to see what it is that will trigger Joon-Jae’s memories and fill in his flashbacks, which are currently of him escaping the thugs alone, with Shim Cheong.) The photograph with both of them in Spain triggers suspicion from Joon-Jae and his question is goes beyond who she is, but why he can’t remember what happened. I appreciated that she becomes a part of his life once again not because he finds himself instinctively attracted to her, but because his curiosity about what happened in Spain and his protectiveness for the under-dog, something which we also saw in the previous episode where he led CEO Jang to reflect the people she had wronged. Shim Chung’s child-likeness is put to good use, especially in the fireworks scene, where she instinctively (and hilariously) jumps to protect Joon-Jae and also asks him innocently why he’s not taking photographs, unlike everybody else. He then tells her that he can just remember, and she responds that he’s taking photographs in his heart. It’s a nice moment of connection between both of them, which also links Joon-Jae back with his past.

Once again, the tightening of the Joseon and the modern day storyline works well as we learn about how the mermaid can only love once in their lives and will risk their lives for that love. I’m not quite sure that we can say the mermaid “loves” Joon-jae, but there’s certainly an attraction that could be classified in human terms as an infatuation. That infatuation alone could be compelling enough for her to come all the way to Seoul to find him. Once again, we see that the mermaid’s life is put in risk because of her relationship with Dam Ryung/Joon-Jae, who decides in both storylines to go defend the mermaid in spite of his friend’s advice. We also return to the picture on the vase, which is from the Joseon era, but the guy is dressed as if he’s from modern times. This is certainly intriguing, but it opens up the possibility of time-travel which I hope is a route that the show doesn’t go down because it’s not quite in line with the tone of the show.

There are also parallels which are established in a more playful manner. While the naming of the mermaid as Sae-wa in the Joseon storyline was poignant and sweet, the naming of her as “Shim Chung” here is done in a teasing manner, where Joon-jae says it’s a short way of saying “really, really stupid”. The mermaid’s joy at being named “Shim Chung” is adorable, as she immediately introduces herself to Tae-Oh with that name. It’s not just Joon-Jae and Sim Chung who have parallel storylines, but the epilogue also shows a scene where Joo-Jin and her husband are slaves of Joon-Jae’s mum, who torments her so much that Joo-Jin wishes that she were reincarnated as her master. It’s a delight to see that the parallel between both storylines is not taken too seriously, almost as a subversion of the seriousness of the myth.

On a final note, Jun Ji-hyun continues to be the highlight of the show, with some great comedic moments in this episode especially when she gets jealous of Shi-ah and tries to mimic her ladylike ways of eating. (WIML: This meeting between the two, right after Shi-Ah relooks at the mermaid pottery, appears to be a setup. My guess is Shi-Ah will be the one to make the connection that the mermaid on the vase resembles Shim Chung.) In a Lee Min Ho’s character is growing on me as we start to see the softer side of him and his vulnerabilities. My sensing of the show though is that it seems to be losing steam after last week. Let’s hope the story starts to pick up pace in subsequent episodes and that the supporting characters get built up more concretely.

Legend of the Blue Sea Episode 3

(Image credits: Asian Superstar/YouTube,  taken from itechpost.com)

In my previous post, I commented that the sageuk storyline was more fascinating and intriguing than the modern day one because there was a clearer sense of where it was heading. A similar case could be made for this week’s episode because we essentially spend most of the modern day episode with our protagonists apart, only with them to reunite at the end with Joon Jae still not remembering the mermaid. However, once we start to put both the sageuk and modern day together, we get a sense that there’s something larger that the show is driving towards.

The parallels between the sageuk and modern day storyline become even more apparent in this episode. Sae Wa relates the story of her and Dam Ryung knowing each other as children/teenagers, then having to part unwillingly once the Dam Ryung is match-made. Dam Ryung rides out on the night of his wedding to find Sae Wa by jumping into the sea. She saves him, but also removes his memories in the process and he finds himself adrift on the sea, not knowing what happened. When hearing the story, Dam Ryung gradually realises that the boy in the storyline is him because his wife has always resented him for disappearing on the first night of their wedding. In our modern day storyline, we have a similar set of broad events happening, where they get to know each other and grow closer, only to have the mermaid remove his memories of her while saving his life, then leaving him on the beach. After a certain period of time, the mermaid seeks him out again to reestablish contact. There’s an element of myth/legend-building going on where our protagonists are trapped in a cycle of fate in which they get closer only to have to restart their relationship building all over again. The jade bangle certainly plays an integral role in this myth and I’m thinking it could be a family heirloom passed down over generations of mermaids.

While I appreciated the tightening of both storylines towards building a myth/legend, there are two gaping plot-holes that bothered me, of which the first one was explained not by the show itself but through an interview. Firstly, I wondered why Sae Wa was able to converse so competently, with no sense of social awkwardness in the sageuk storyline whereas she’s reduced to a child-like immaturity in the modern day storyline?  Based on a recent interview with the production crew, the mermaids in both storylines are supposed to be different characters, which should have been made more obvious from the start because most criticisms of the first two episodes stem from the inconsistencies of the portrayal of the mermaid. Given that both mermaids are supposed to be different, it makes more sense since Sae Wa did have more time to acquire human language through interacting with Dam Ryung since childhood, whereas the mermaid in the modern day storyline really started from scratch.

Secondly, in the first episode, we learn that mermaids can erase the memories they want erased. If so, then why doesn’t the mermaid just erase the memories of Joon-Jae learning that she was a mermaid rather than all his memories of her? Doesn’t she realise that besides Joon-Jae, there were many others who saw her (many of whom she beat up) and therefore her attempt to erase his memories of her would be futile? If her intent was really to fulfil her promise to him and go with him to Seoul, then why remove all his memories? This is unfortunately not explained convincingly. At the end of this episode, we return to the beach when she departed from him, giving him the jade bangle and telling him that she will go and find him, regardless of how difficult it will be. I actually found the mermaid at the end of this episode rather inconsistent with the mermaid we saw in episodes 1 and 2, because she expresses herself with such conviction and awareness, and when she says “I love you”, it’s as if she completely understands what it means. This is so unlike the bumbling, awkward mermaid that we saw earlier. Nonetheless, this is just something we’ll have to accept as part of building the romance between our protagonists.

I spoke earlier of the show engaging in myth-making, but in some senses, it’s also engaging in myth-breaking and we can see throughout the first three episodes an intentional attempt to break down the traditional stereotypes of what mermaids are like. Instead of being defenceless and in need of protection, this mermaid is physically strong and perfectly capable of fending off any attackers. The mermaid is usually a representation of grace and beauty, yet the mermaid in this series emerges on land in T-shirt and track pants, scrounges through trash bins and even attempts to steal money from a kid. Our usual impression of the mermaid is that she is friends of all the animals in the sea, even sort of a guardian of them, yet the mermaid in this show strikes fear amongst the sea life and we get a hilarious scene of a child expressing shock that the mermaid ate the fish. While such portrayal of mermaids may not be original (in light of what we’ve read recently about the show’s plagiarism), it did work in light of this episode and provided moments of genuine humour.  I did like the scene between the mermaid and the child, where the child inducts the mermaid into the realities of life regarding money, which was a really neat twist to how mermaids are usually regarded by children as fantastical characters.

As for Joon Jae, there wasn’t much going on in this episode and I was mostly hoping he would realise that he had met the mermaid in Spain much earlier. We do get some backstory about his mum, but I found it too coincidental that his mum turns out to be the helper of Shi-ah, who is pining after him. I’m interested in what happened between his mum and him that led to their separation, but as of now, his conman tricks are slowly growing old and I’d like to see more character development and interaction between the mermaid and him.

Regarding the romance, I’d really appreciate more moments of genuine connection between Joon Jae and the mermaid because for now the romance seems rather forced and I cannot really see why the mermaid loves him so much to swim all the way to Seoul to find him. Perhaps it’s because she’s the last mermaid left, which made his not letting go of her in the previous two episodes all the more significant because of how lonely she is now. However, we urgently need our characters to reconnect, especially after the memory reset that just happened. On a similar note, let’s not have this memory reset take place too frequently because it often means that the relationship needs to be rebuilt, which is not helpful for a romance.  I also found the soundtrack too repetitive in this episode and preferred if it were saved for moments where our characters truly connected, as opposed to the scene at Seaworld, where we know that Joon Jae still does not remember the mermaid.

All in all, there’s some potentially good stuff in this series, but it seems to be stumbling its way forward and losing its audience due to the plot-holes. I feel that it should really be made clearer that both mermaids are different. Moving ahead, the series should stop overplaying the element of the mermaid’s adaptation to modern society storyline and move towards developing its own mythology, or the so-called “Legend of the Blue Sea”, in a more consistent and compelling manner.

Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim Episode 6: Motivation

After focusing on Dong-joo for quite a few episodes, our focus this episode is on Seo-Jung as we witness her growth in making decisions and taking actions to save lives.

Seo-Jung’s sincerity has never been in question. Being a doctor is her passion and it consumes her entire being in a good way. When treating a patient, her eyes light up and she becomes fully engaged, doing everything she can for her patients. Unlike Dong-joo whose journey is really about getting his motivations right, Seo-Jung’s motivations have never been in doubt. For her, the journey was about gaining confidence and assertiveness. While I do appreciate her humility and respect towards Master Kim, I did feel that she’s too subservient to him, allowing him to put her down continually. In this episode, she looks Master Kim in the eye and defends her choice to let Do In-bum operate even though that’s clearly a violation of the rules. It’s a moment of courage that we haven’t seen from her and I like that Master Kim withholds any outright affirmation because he’s not one for kind words. She finds her own affirmation when she sees the wife of the patient she saved, hugging him in gratitude and tears.

We also get explanation of why she looked at Im-bum with such a stunned look at the end of the previous episode as it is revealed that she is President Do’s daughter. While I found this a little too neat, I hope it suggests that we can eliminate Do In-bum as a love rival for her because the last thing I want to see on this show is a love triangle. Her backstory is used to reinforce her growth. When recounting her first meeting with In-bum as a child, she tells us that her dream was not to be a good doctor, but to be acknowledged by President Do. This is followed by a scene of him walking down the stairs, expressing his disappointment in her. She looks shaken by his words. When she finally sees the patient she’s treated and says “It’s okay. That’s enough. I did the right thing. I did”, she’s responding to both Master Kim and President Do’s comments about her over the day. She’s now gained the confidence to judge when she’s done a good job, without needing the acknowledgement of others. Seo Hyun-Jin really shines in this episode as she portrays the emotional journey of Seo-jung so subtly yet powerfully through all her facial expressions.

On the note of President Do, I continue to be unconvinced by the simplistic portrayal of him as an evil villain who mercilessly pursues profits and self-gain. And worse of all, he’s also a terrible father, giving his son a slap without recognising that his son saved someone’s life. Because of this, I’m also less invested in the ongoing battle between him and Master Kim, which he was already evidently losing even before this episode. I really hope we get more humanising moments, so that the character of President Do is more believable.

Related to the tussle between the two characters, I found the portrayal of Master Kim in this episode to be rather jarring and I’m not sure where his character is really heading. I get that Master Kim is not a clear cut good guy and that he’s ruthlessly pursuing vengeance for what was done to him. However, I’ve always thought that he was meant to celebrate the heart of what medicine, which is about saving lives, and that Doldam Hospital was supposed to represent a return to that simplicity of treating patients through the skillfulness of the doctor’s hands, rather than relying on protocol and modern technology. As such, Master Kim’s continual manipulation of CEO Shin by requesting for modern equipment, almost at the expense of CEO Shin’s life, seemed to be rather inconsistent with his message about putting patients’ lives first. I was equally concerned by the ending, where we see Dr Song and his team coming to join Doldam Hospital and Master Kim smiling. It seems as if Master Kim is trying to convert Doldam Hospital into a mini-version of Geodae Hospital, with all its protocol and modern technology.

Part of me is also concerned because I did appreciate the tight focus we had on our three protagonists at Doldam Hospital for the past few episodes and there’s so much more potential to further explore their journeys and their relationships. With even more characters being thrown into the mix, it may dilute the focus on the core relationships of the show which have been steadily unfolding. Master Kim’s relationship with both Seo-Jung and Dong-joo has been largely well-handled thus far and I appreciate that we don’t get an overflow of heart-warming, touching scenes between them, but really quiet moments of affirmation which come only after hard-fought battles are done and the dust is settled. We finally see Master Kim express some affirmation for both Dong-joo and Seo-jung. For Dong-Joo, it happens quietly without fanfare, as Master Kim tells him matter of factly that he will now check if Dong-joo is around before he heads off and that things were simpler when he was the only surgeon. It’s an acknowledgement that Master Kim now sees Dong-joo as an important part of Doldam’s workings and that he needs to coordinate his efforts with Dong-joo. As for Seo-jung, Master Kim expresses his affirmation through a nice scene between him, Dr. Nam and Nurse Oh at the end, where he recounts how she spoke up to him with a hint of a smile on his face.

With ratings going up, there is evidently growing attention on this series and I would argue that it’s not the medical aspects that are drawing people to the show, but really the characters. My greatest wish for subsequent episodes is that we get more clarity on where exactly the character of Master Kim is heading, because he is really the core of the show. In doing so, I hope the show also sheds more light on what the “Romantic Doctor” in the title means.