Nine Time Travel: Series Review [spoilers ahead]

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I’ve been meaning to catch Nine Time Travel after watching W Two Worlds and finally found some time in the middle of assignments to do so. This has to be the best drama series I’ve ever watched in a long time, and not just k-dramas for that matter. The show sucked me in completely and while I took a while with the first four episodes because I was travelling, I finished the other 16 episodes within 2 days. The series had such a strong momentum pushing it ahead and was completely compelling at every turn. The pacing was almost perfect and the show made the most of each twist to fully explore the emotional ramifications on the characters involved. It took a bold, deep step into exploring the very tricky, complex device of time travel and brought it to life in a way I’ve never seen before.

In summary, Park Sun Woo, a newscaster, discovers through delving deeper into his brother’s death that he was in Nepal looking for a box of incense sticks, which allows one to transport 20 years into the past whenever it is lit. Each stick takes 30 minutes to burn, which means whatever needs to be done in the past had to be accomplished within 30 minutes. However, what’s fascinating is that both the past and present move in a linear manner, meaning that the change in the present only happens once the character in the past makes a decision that will change the present, and that could happen after the visit to the past is made. This keeps things interesting because both the characters in the present and past retain their sense of free will and have the ability to make their own decisions without any so-called ‘hand of fate’ controlling them.

The returns to the past start off on a victorious note with Sun Woo managing to use the incense sticks to go back to get even more sticks and then returning to bring cheer to his mum and fulfil his brother’s, Park Jung Woo’s, wish of getting together with Yoo Jin. However, things start to take a bleak turn when the good intent on his part penalises him as it turns out his lover, Joo Min Young, is the daughter of Yoo Jin. Bringing his brother together with Yoo Jin in the past results in Min Young becoming his niece and hence him losing her. The events take an even bleaker turn as he returns to reverse his dad’s death and realises that it was Jung Woo who accidentally killed his dad and not the villain of the show, Choi Jin Cheol. He returns again to the past to persuade his brother to confess his crime, but it turns out that is insufficient to reverse the present as Choi has already bribed the police, hence he realises he needs to rely on other allies, i.e. his boss Oh Chul min, who’s a young reporter back then to bring the truth to light. I always enjoy shows with characters who continually think on their feet and come up with ways to manoveur out of difficult situations and Sun Woo manages to do that time and time again, even though the incense sticks seem intent to do him in.

While I enjoyed the overarching plot structure of the series as a whole, I also enjoyed how well-written and intense each individual episode was. Each individual episode was enjoyable on its own and often adopted a non-linear approach in exploring the telling the story, often times detouring from the present back to past, before returning to the painful present. The show also manages to deftly bring in light-hearted or victorious moments amidst the increasingly bleak main storyline by bringing in the past at appropriate moments and then almost always ending with a shocker that almost over-turns all that’s happened in the episode earlier. One perfect example of this was the episode where present Sun Woo dies because of his tumour. We know from the trailer that he dies, but of course, given that that was one of the earlier episodes, it’s also obvious that his end can’t be so soon. Through both skillful directing and writing, the whole episode shifts back and forth between past and present and in the past, we see Sun Woo gradually figuring out that he’s the one who’s going to die, and Young Hoon discovering the pills in his room which present Sun Woo dropped in an earlier scuffle. This key event then leads to a dramatic turn as we return to the present and Young Hoon realises that Sun Woo’s life has been saved, because he has been going for regular scans to pay particular attention to his health.

If I had to nitpick though, I would have liked the show to go deeper into the source of these incense sticks, which is an issue that’s never touched on – perhaps because it will just make things too complex. This was something that Queen In-hyun’s Man managed to deal with satisfactorily, but this show neglects to address. We do get many references to God/Him throughout and much time is spent in the hospital chapel with both Young Hoon and Sun Woo praying, or trying to pray because it’s something so foreign to them. However, perhaps the source of the incense sticks is a moot-point, because at the end of the series, Sun Woo realises that he is the final incense stick – he was the one who brought the fruit of knowledge to those around him and as such, he’s the one who was ultimately in control all along. It’s quite a chilling realisation, if you ask me, yet also neat and in sync with the show’s logic. There’s been a lot of thought put into the mechanics of time travel in this show, and it’s largely consistent throughout, even as more people get clued in onto the time travel process.

Beyond the writing and directing, it is certainly the cast as well who brings the show to life and I must say that Lee Jin Wook far outshines everybody else. He plays Sun Woo with such aplomb and charisma that it almost seems like the role was written for him. He’s able to present such layered emotions within his expression, hiding sorrow beneath smiles or shocks beneath serenity. It’s a pity he’s kind of gone into oblivion mostly after that and is no longer recognised as one of the top male stars in the kdrama-verse. It does seem though that he was the most deeply and intricately written character within the whole show and the other characters were more or less short-changed because most of the others lacked that depth and complexity, the most obvious of all being Jo Yoon-Hee’s character – Min Young. I never quite connected with her character – if I ever cried or felt for her, it was because of the pain that it also caused to Sun Woo, but never did I quite connect with her, either as Joo Min Young or Park Min Young. She just didn’t ever come alive in the show, and it felt that as a character, she was simply responding to Sun Woo’s actions or passively responding to circumstances. She certainly wasn’t a heroine of any sort. It’s strange that I started to like her character more in the finale because she started to show more of her spunk and wackiness, but most of that disappeared for a large part of the series, especially when she was Park Min Young. I enjoyed the ‘bromance’ between Young Hoon (Seung-Joon) and Sun Woo, but it wasn’t as strong as Sun Woo’s own story arc and his ‘relationship’ with fate/the incense sticks.

On a final note, I would say this series came at a very timely moment for me when I was looking for a show that would stimulate me intellectually and impress me with its intelligence. I have found most of the shows thus far in 2017 entertaining, but not impressive in terms of writing and plotting. I’m hoping Tunnel becomes the show that achieves that. Nine far surpassed my expectations and it’s made me look forward to Sung Jae Jung and Kim Byung Soo’s next collaboration. I’ve enjoyed all their series together thus far, and after watching this, QIHM and W Two Worlds, I’d have to say Nine is the best piece of work. W Two Worlds was arguably more ambitious than Nine in terms of what it was trying to do both creatively and thematically, and I’d argue that had a greater emotional hook and fleshed out its key characters more thoroughly. However, in terms of overall structuring and tightness of writing, Nine beats both shows hands down for its sheer complexity and coherence. I will definitely be recommending this show to anyone who wants to watch a great k-drama!

Innocent Defendant Episode 9

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For all the flaws in the writing of the show – both in terms of the plot and the characterisation of Min Ho, I have to say I’m really really enjoying the performances of both Ji Sung and Uhm Ki-Joon and they play off each other extremely well in this episode.

Ji Sung’s performance as the tormented, floundering Jeong Woo has been compelling and engaging thus far, but I enjoy his performance of Jeong Woo pretending to be crazy and out of his mind even better. What’s even more perfect is how he overplays it in such a frenzied and exaggerated manner that those of us who’ve seen him actually break down can tell the difference, but not Min Ho. We also learn get an explanation regarding Jeong Woo’s repeated loss of memory – it happens when he recovers all his memories because of his desire to protect himself. It’s not the best explanation in light of what’s been going on because I always thought Min Ho had a role to play in ensuring Jeong Woo lost his memories – wasn’t that why he kept arranging for Jeong Woo to be sent to the prison cell?

Min Ho is vicious as always and we finally get to see what happened on the night of Ji Soo’s murder. The act of him pausing before stabbing Ji Soo and then changing to his left hand was so devious, creepy and shocking at the same time. In prison, he truly turns on his manipulative prowess, provoking Jeong Woo in such cruel ways by firstly pretending to perform a scene from a play which is actually Ji Soo’s last words, and then bringing Ha Yeon to prison. I loved how sharp and smart Jeong Woo was in both those instances, especially when Min Ho acted out Ji Soo’s last words. He indeed lost control of himself and wanted to get Min Ho, but realised that he needed a decoy to divert Min Ho’s attention hence he pretends to be angry instead over his bread.

Beneath Min Ho’s deviousness is a huge sense of insecurity as we witness a nightmare of his with Jeong Woo strangling him. He’s grappling at all ways to regain control over Jeong Woo and his condition; while he is able to use his power to manipulate the prison warden to put Jeong Woo in a separate prison, it is in the area of psychological warfare that he loses out to Jeong Woo because if there’s anything we’ve seen from Jeong Woo’s time in prison, we know that he’s not just smart, but also very mentally strong and determined. I found his act of stopping himself from seeing Ha Yeon very admirable, because it showed how he could see in the long term and overcome his most heartfelt desire to be with his daughter, so as to ensure she’s safe. While not explicitly mentioned, Seong Kyu’s previous visit must also have given Jeong Woo a sense of assurance that Seong Kyu is protecting and keeping Ha Yeon safe, hence he cannot do anything now to jeopardise that situation.

We’ve had a little less focus on Jun-Hyuk and Eun-Hye recently, but I’m glad Eun-Hye is proving her worth in the short appearances she has. This time, she manages to spot a key detail even before Jeong Woo tells her about it, which is that two knives were missing from the kitchen and not one. I’m keen to see the latest development of Min Ho getting Eun-hye to defend him and am wondering what he has up his sleeves. Now that Jun-Hyuk has heard Ha Yeon’s voice, I’m sure that will prompt him to take more action, but that also potentially means his promotion and career could be on the line, since he was so resolute in putting Jeong Woo behind bars. Will he finally make the right choice this time?

Besides the Jeong Woo-Min Ho drama that we got in this episode, I also enjoyed the brief insights we got into the struggles of the Cha family, especially the scene between Min Ho’s dad and mum at the altar of Seon Ho. They know the truth but the tension they face is genuine as revealing the truth would mean they lose both sons and also means the whole reputation of the family goes down the drain. We see Yeon Hee increasingly losing her nerves too and becoming increasingly frazzled when she remembers Jennifer Lee’s cry before dying. How long will she be able to keep up the pretence before she breaks down completely?

I’m glad to hear of the two episode extension, because I feel there’s much scope to flesh out some of the relationships that may not be critical for the main storyline, but useful nonetheless. Of particular interest would be Min Ho’s relationship with his mum over the years, and also with Yeon Hee. It’d be nice if we got clearer sense of Min Ho’s gradual downfall over the years to the cold-hearted murderer that he is right now. I don’t necessarily need him to be softened or redeemed as a villain, but at least it’d be nice to see him humanised so that we understand how he became who he is today.

Nonetheless, in spite of certain plotholes, I’m really enjoying this drama because we see two equally intelligent, capable protagonists continually trying to outsmart each other. Now that Min Ho knows that Jeong Woo remembers, one has to wonder what his next step is going to be.

Innocent Defendant Episodes 3 & 4

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I’m impressed at how fast this show is moving, with significant reveals in each episode that open up more questions with the latest being that Jun Hyuk was the one who visited their home on the night of Ha Yeon’s birthday. I don’t think Jun Hyuk was involved in the murder of Ji Soo and Ha Yeon (if she’s even dead), but he certainly knows more about what really happened on that night. Yet we also know from Jun Hyuk’s recount of his past encounters with Jeong Woo (if we can even rely on those) that Jeong Woo had confessed once to killing Ji Soo and Ha Yeon. While I’m almost 100% sure he didn’t kill them, why would he confess to it? It’s a fascinating journey where the protagonist isn’t sure of his innocence – he wants to know the truth, not only to defend himself, but also so that he can get his just punishment if he was indeed the one who murdered his wife and child.

It’s also enjoying how the story still remains coherent as we move back and forth in time to earlier times of happiness, to the time of Jeong Woo investigating Seon Ho’s death and then to the time when Jeong Woo first lost his memories. The show is being very creative with its chronology, but still maintaining a good momentum in moving the story ahead. The shifting back and forth in chronology helps to ensure a good balance of tone throughout the episodes and serve to emphasis how far Jeong Woo has fallen.

The direction of the series is stellar as well. I really liked the scene where both Jeong Woo and Chul Shik are in the punishment cells and we are shown both of them, with the wall separating them. There’s a lot of thoughtful crafting of scenes, as the scene after that also shows us Min Ho’s face from behind the window blinds as he questions why Jeong Woo is making an appeal again. As a whole, the show is well-written and well-directed and looks well positioned to be a ratings hit.

I have to say though the whole Min-Ho pretending to be Seon-Ho plotline is starting to become less and less convincing. I find it hard to believe that nobody can tell that he’s not Seon-Ho. In ep3, we see that he has a secret wall in his office with photographs and details of the previous clients of Cham Young, which he uses to prepare for each meeting. However, certainly there would be details that he wouldn’t be aware of? Furthermore, given that we’re led to believe that Min Ho and Seon Ho had very different personalities, wouldn’t anyone have been able to sense it? The only way this storyline can become more convincing is if we have more people realising that he’s actually Min Ho, but then colluding in this lie for reasons of their own. This is the reason why I’m fascinated by the theory that his dad actually knows that he’s not Seon Ho, but is playing along because he cannot afford to lose another son and heir to his inheritance. We certainly get strong hints of that in episode 4 when the dad asks him to joust with Lee Chan Young.

I’m also wondering about the repeated loss of memories, which seems to be taking the amnesia trope to an extreme. I know it’s a common trope in k-dramas, but I have rarely seen it used well. In this case, I really hope that we get a convincing explanation of how this repeated memory loss is happening, most likely due to the prison chief and warden’s arrangements. I can foresee that it won’t be the last time that Jeong Woo loses his memories and he’s likely to lose them at a critical moment in our story when victory is near. Eun Hye would certainly have an important role to play in ensuring he retains his memories.

Nonetheless, this has been an excellent start to the series and I hope it can keep it its wonderful blend of mystery, suspense and excitement!

Legend of the Blue Sea – Finale

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Legend of The Blue Sea delivers a light-hearted, fun and sweet finale that’s nothing less of what we’ve come to expect of the show.

The show has always done its fun and light-hearted parts well and most of my favourite parts of the show have been its laugh out loud bits. Whether it’s Sim Chung’s awkwardness in adjusting to the world through watching TV dramas, or Joon Jae’s denial of his affection for her, the show has consistently been able to make me smile and laugh. The finale has many of these funny moments too, like Nam Doo in his new profession as he speaks about tax evasion and quotes Benjamin Franklin, Detective Hong becoming part of the trio and drinking beer with them and Sim Chung’s meeting with the mermaid who has come on land.

On the romance end of things, it was never in doubt that Joon Jae and Sim Chung would have a happy ending, even as the show tried to throw in that final obstacle about her having to return to sea to recuperate. I did have a strong suspicion from the start that Joon Jae did not forget Sim Chung, even though she erased his memories, and I was right! It was touching to see that he recorded every single moment of them being together, though the question was why he had to do so in writing? We know from the early part of the series that photographic evidence of her will always remain, so why didn’t he take any photos with her? Wouldn’t there have been any photos from her birthday too?  

Logical issues aside, I appreciated that Joon Jae had to work hard to ensure the memories of Sim Chung were retained, and that the memories didn’t just come flooding back through a random trigger. I also liked how he respected her enough to keep a strong front when she spoke to him through telepathy in front of his friends and family, so as not to expose her identity in front of them. It certainly must not have been easy given that we saw him breaking down already in the car journey back, but his instinct to protect her always comes first, and even after seeing her for the first time in three years, his first priority is to protect her identity. And even after they reunite, they settle down in a home close to the sea, a place where she can be comfortable in, and away from the rest of society, so that she does not have to fear being exposed and they can both live their lives happily ever after while he supports her as a public prosecutor.

Nonetheless, even as the show ends with perfect happiness for our couple, there’s an undeniable feeling that the show could have been so much more. I strongly believe I’m not alone in saying that the mythology of the mermaid was only superficially explored during this series. It was only when Jo Jung-Suk made his cameo that we started to go slightly deeper into the mythology, but we never really got to explore the world that Sim Chung came from. We got hints of it towards the end, but it was never really enough. Furthermore, we never got to explore what it means for a human to fall in love with a mermaid, given that they are both essentially from different worlds. Joon Jae just accepted the fact that Sim Chung was a mermaid without questioning further or even discussing it once. This romance across worlds almost seemed too easy.

Beyond the mythology, the whole connection between past and present wasn’t also fully exploited for its dramatic potential. Granted, we did get some interesting twists towards the end with Nam Doo and Chi Hyun, but part of me also felt like this big reveal came too late and by that point, I had already been so frustrated with Dae Young’s lack of action. There were hints that Dam Ryung and Joon Jae could communicate with each other and help each other when Dam Ryung was also getting visions of the future, but that really wasn’t pushed much further. What I found most problematic was that there really was never any threat to Sim Chung in the modern day storyline, unlike in the Joseon era. Nobody really wanted to get rid of her, except for Dae Young who was largely ineffective. Given that Sim Chung never really was in any danger, it also didn’t feel like their relationship had to go through huge hurdles to get to where it was.

In spite of the above, I still think the show was a worthwhile watch because it was mostly entertaining. Jung Ji Hyun has always been good, but I didn’t think this was her best performance – I felt she performed much better in My Love from the Star, also partly because her character was so much more layered and complex, demanding a larger range of emotions from her than Sim Chung and Sae Wa. However, it’s Lee Min Ho who truly shone in this series and I have to say his performance was really amazing, especially towards the end following his dad’s death. I initially complained that the rest of the characters weren’t interesting, but by the end, I grew to love almost all the characters, which made the show an enjoyable watch. Well, not every show needs to be a classic and I’m glad that this show was one which just allowed me to sit back and relax after a long day.

Missing Nine Episode 2

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“Missing Nine” continues to hit all the right notes in the second episode and is absolutely engaging from start to end. Just as it gives more answers, it opens up more questions and we get slowly drawn into the characters’ lives and predicaments.

The stuck-on-a-deserted island premise isn’t new, but the show manages to breathe life into it through its unique narrative style of unfolding the story on the island through the eyes of Bong Hee and situating the story in very modern contexts like the frenzy of social media and Sino-korean relations. While the characters are key to drawing us into the story, it’s a very thematically rich show too, with the second episode looking into themes of identity, hope and truth. I’m also loving the soundtrack thus far, and the OST captures that wistfulness, desolation and beauty of surviving such an ordeal.

In this episode, Bong Hee starts to recall what happens on the island following the crash in a largely chronological manner through an interview with Investigator Oh, who has Hee-Kyung monitoring the situation and feeding him prompts and responses through the earphone. While Bong Hee claims to have forgotten what has happened, she does recap the happenings in relatively rich detail and we learn that from a medical perspective, there’s no reason why she should have forgotten what has happened. In fact, even if she did not have any amnesia, I would imagine someone returning from such an ordeal to have to take quite a long while to piece everything together.

Joon Ho and Bong Hee end up on the same stretch of beach following the crash. While Bong Hee may have been bumbling and awkward in the first episode when handling the media world, she is completely at ease on the island, taking charge immediately by sorting out food and water supplies and portioning it appropriately for her and Joon Oh. Joon Oh on the other hand is not only absolutely useless at survival skills, he has no sense of the gravity of the situation and keeps eating up the food supplies.

However, physical survival is not the main journey as it’s ultimately about the emotional journey and the show explores this deeply as Bong Hee moves back and forth from hope to despair continually throughout the episode. Her survival instinct is certainly drawn from her memories of her mum, who gave her both practical skills and the sheer will to live. While initially subserviant to Joon Oh and complaint to his threats to fire her back in Seoul, she realises that she’s the one in control here when Lee Yeol emerges and informs her that he has seen skeletons of people who have died on this island. It makes her realise that going back to Seoul may be a very distant reality, and in the world of the island, she’s the one who’s ultimately able to survive and whom Joon Oh needs to depend on.

The group gradually grows as shortly after Lee Yeol is discovered, they also find Ji Ah, who then brings them to a cave where they meet So Hee. We learn that she is eventually killed by someone and a man, who claims to be her brother but is probably her lover, is seeking revenge for her. Just as the happenings on the island remain a mystery, the web of relationships in the world where Bong Hee returns to also continues to unravel in intriguing ways.

Nonetheless, in the midst of the good stuff, I did feel that the physical realities of living on the island weren’t fully captured. Bong Hee and Joon Oh’s clothes still seem almost pristine clean, with only minor stains and that’s after several days where they’ve gone to look for food and even set up a good shelter for themselves. There’s no sense of the weather too as they seem to be wearing the same attire all the time, which for Joon Oh is his turtleneck from morning till night. There’s almost no struggle in getting food or buiding a shelter – in fact, it almost seems too smooth. Nonetheless, I’m willing to overlook all the above since the drama does depict the emotional journey very well.

We’re certainly in for a ride and there’s so much to think about and keep you at the edge of your seat in each episode! It’s still early but I can foresee this show doing well in the ratings.

My wife is having an affair this week: Finale

The series ends off on a happy note for most of our relationships and even for the forum users as some of their lives have moved on towards a positive trajectory. Yet, amidst the happiness of the ending, I felt a sense of dissatisfaction at the issues that were glossed over and swept under the carpet.

Yoon-ki and Ara’s relationship has generally been poorly handled and just as I saw a glimmer of hope in the previous episode, this episode blew it all to bits again. Once again, there’s such excess to their storyline – earlier on, it was too much philandering scenes and now, we have too much revenge scenes. Did we really need to get so many scenes of Yoon-ki’s pathetic state post-divorce, or so many scenes of violence from Ara? Instead of the revenge sequences, which were downright cruel, I would have rather had some proper conversations between Ara and Yoon-ki, or even Yoon-ki with Hyun Woo or Joon-Young, reflecting on his actions and his state now. Certainly reconciliation is not on the cards and would be unrealistic, but greater exploration of their emotional journey would certainly have been more meaningful.

And then we have Joon Young and Bo Young’s storyline, which has always been the spark of the series. The two of them are downright cute together and have such great chemistry. They have so many touching and humorous moments – squabbling over the baby’s name, Bo Young moving into Joon-Young’s place and seeing the most sweet little nursery set up by Joon Young. I loved the scene where Bo Young walks around the house and uncovers all the photos of himself that Joon Young has hidden throughout. The core of their relationship in this episode centres around the baby girl and how they’ll handle it; however, the finale fails to explore what this whole issue means for both of them as divorcees. Didn’t Bo Young mention in the previous episode that she was not ready for a relationship again? What happened then to let her believe she was ready? How about Joon Young – he has certainly fallen into his role as a daddy very quickly – isn’t that a very big step ahead? How does he know that he’s ready as both a husband and a daddy? To expect answers to these may be requesting for too much, but I was hoping these would at least be touched upon. Ultimately, the pregnancy seems to have come a way to push them together towards the end.

Saving the best for last, we have Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon. When we started off the episode with her typing in the forum, I was hoping we’d get some insights into how she had grown, rather than a summary of what we had already seen in the past 11 episodes. And that’s precisely what we get – we hear of how over-stretched she was, how the affair gave her an outlet, and how she’s been a bad wife to Hyun Woo. She ends with the realisation that she has been a selfish wife and that all along, her husband has been holding on to her. There’s no sense that she’s intending to do anything with that realisation. Even after she sees him with another woman, she doesn’t make an attempt to hold on to him, and instead, calls him and says they should stop being sorry for each other, and be happy in their own lives.

Her phone call leads Hyun Woo to the realisation that he’s been too focused on the past and what has happened. He now has found the courage to leave all that’s happened in the past and not care about the wife that’s cheated on him, because what’s most important is “her, it’s her”, emphasising the wife that he sees before himself right now. He expresses hope that she too can let go of the past “him”, the person who was “foolish and lame”. And we see him walking across the zebra crossing to reach out to her, symbolising his attempt once again not to let go of her. While I understand him letting go of the past, I don’t understand why he sees the need for her to forget the “foolish and lame” him, because he evidently displayed growth from the moment of realising about the affair until the decision to divorce. He certainly gives himself too little credit and I believe even Soo Yeon saw his growth. This has led me to realise that the series is ultimately not about how a couple handles with adultery, but really with how a husband handles it when his wife cheats on him, which is honestly a tad disappointing.

I still admire this show very much for its courage in tackling such a tough issue and exploring the darkest, toughest corners of it. It’s been a hard-hitting and raw journey from start to end, especially for Hyun Woo. There were many moments throughout where the show caused me to seriously reflect on my own marriage and how I would respond to a similar setting. This show has been powerful in all the forums and discussion boards as well, causing people to open up and share their very personal stories. Regardless of how I feel about the finale, the journey of watching this show has been an extremely enriching and unique one and I’ve really enjoyed all the discussions of it. Perhaps the ending is left deliberately open for us to continue that dialogue about what it will take for Hyun Woo to Soo Yeon to rebuild their marriage again. It will certainly be long journey ahead, requiring both of them to work at it.

As we end the series, I’d also like to thank all who’ve commented on my blog, either through comment boards or on the entries itself. I’ve enjoyed talking about the show and discussing our views about marriage. This is a topic I personally feel passionate about and this show was timely as I wanted to watch a drama that dealt with marriage and not just dating and romance. In that aspect, the show certainly exceeded my expectations as it took a very realistic look at marriage in such an engaging and creative manner. Big thanks to the cast and crew of the show for making this so enjoyable!

Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim: Episode 4

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This was an episode with less happening and more actual interaction between our characters. I appreciated that very much as we begin to observe more clearly the strengths and vulnerabilities of our protagonists.

Within the first few minutes of the episode, we see what happened three hours before Master Kim appears with the burnt victims. He’s been lurking in the casino, where he once again saves someone from a stroke and is called in by Chairman Sin to be his doctor. Just as they are talking, a fire breaks out in the kitchen and Master Kim goes to the rescue, trying to put out the flames and reduce the burns before sending the victims to the hospital. Back in the hospital, we see his decisiveness, efficiency and precision at work as he administers the necessary treatment, delegates follow-up action and monitors the situation. Han Seok-kyu imbues the role of Master Kim with a strong sense of humanity and compassion; when Master Kim helps his patients, it’s not out of duty or a distant sense of professionalism, but it’s because he’s genuinely concerned for them. That compassion is written in his eyes as he speaks to the Head Chef and as he watches the chopper take off. Unlike in the hospital where doctors celebrate with feasts after successful surgeries, Master Kim sits down, pensive and exhausted after the dust has settled, without a hint of pride or self-exaltation. While others may see his actions as heroic, Master Kim has no sense of bravado; he’s just doing what needs to be done as a human being to save a life.

This is in stark contrast to Dong Joo, whom Master Kim scolds for thinking of himself as a hero. When Master Kim scolds Dong Joo for being a coward and accuses him of being insincere, it offends Dong Joo so much because he knows deep down it’s true. Underlying Master Kim’s scathing words is a strong message to Dong Joo that he needs to man up and take full responsibility and ownership of the lives under his hands. He scolds Dong Joo for fighting so hard to be top student, yet not being able to let go of the name of Geodae Hospital. Geodae Hospital is a comfort zone for Dong Joo, because it’s where he built his reputation. It’s where he feels safe because of all the protocols established, the clear specialisation and hierarchy as well as the modern medical equipment. As much as Dong Joo blames the system for making him a coward, he relies on the system to validate his own competency as a doctor. His decision to resign reflects this exact cowardice as he tells the Director that he’s not the right person for the hospital, putting the blame on the hospital rather than on himself.

Just as he walks off, Mr Jang tries to ask him to stop but Seo-Jung delivers yet another blow to Dong Joo’s pride by questioning his motivations. Dong Joo is unashamed that he is motivated by promotion because he does not want to remain forever in a hospital like Doldam Hospital. She questions him on why he chooses not to focus on the right things (i.e. the patients) with all his competencies, instead of seeking the approval of higher ups and playing the victim card. Once again, all these words ring true because this was exactly what caused him to end up at Doldam Hospital when he was tricked by the “higher-ups” to take on the surgery of the VIP, rather than tend to the patient that he originally wanted to treat. In a subsequent conversation, Seo-Jung tells Dong Joo that success and career advancement is good, but never forget that:

We’re only doctors, but we’re still doctors. Don’t forget that. – Seo-Jung

Seo-Jung serves as a good contrast to Dong Joo. She’s humble and eager to learn and improve her craft. When Master Kim asks her for three reasons to stay, she repeats three times her desire to learn from him. She’s genuinely interested to improve and serve the needs of patients, which is nicely contrasted to Dong Joo’s three reasons, which are that he hates Master Kim, the hospital and he can’t see his future. There’s a real glimmer in Seo-Jung’s eyes and an energy in her entire being when she’s treating patients, even from the sidelines. However, Dong Joo treats his patience with such cold, stone-faced precision. He wants to be the best doctor, not just a good doctor, implying a sense of competitiveness.

When Master Kim comes in to see him later, Dong Joo asks the same question to him that Nurse Oh asks him, “Are you a good doctor or the best doctor?”. Master Kim responds that the patient does not need the best doctor, but an orthopaedic surgeon who can also treat fractures – which is why he is playing all his cards to be the right doctor for him. He then gives Dong Joo the most nurturing piece of advice thus far, which is to be a doctor who serves and “as long as [he] [doesn’t] change, nothing will change”. This is such a cliched line, but once again Han Seok-Kyu delivers it with such gravity and sincerity that it hits home hard. That also triggers Dong Joo’s memory of the childhood incident and he suddenly identifies that Master Kim is Boo Yong-Joo and their exchange ends with him Master Kim denying it, which opens up a whole realm of story-telling which certainly is fascinating.

This was certainly the best episode of the series for me, with many solid character moments, including hilarious interjections by Nurse Oh and Mr Jang. Jin Kyung certainly plays the role of Nurse Oh so well and it’s amazing how much she conveys with just her eyes, especially in the meeting with Dr Yeo where we mostly got scenes of her sipping tea. The show is shaping up better and I am looking forward to more solid, character-focused story-telling.

Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 3

When watching this episode, I was reminded of a simple phrase that regarding writing: “Sometimes, less is more.” What this means is that instead of trying to fill your essay with too many ideas, it is often better to focus on a few key ideas to create more impact. That would be my exact advice to the writer of this series too.

Let’s recap what’s happened to our main protagonists from the premiere till this point.

Dong-joo and Seo-jung first met in Episode 1, had several unpleasant encounters together but were eventually united when he stood by her to save a patient. They then share an intense kiss, which caused Seo-jung to turn down her boyfriend’s proposal. Just then, a large truck crashes into them, resulting in them both being rushed to hospital, where her boyfriend suddenly collapses and dies. Shaken by that incident, she decides to go on a hike where she falls down and injures her ankle.

When we next see our characters in Episode 2, five years have passed and we get very little hint of what exactly transpired into those five years. From being someone who was willing to break the rules to save lives, Dong-joo has become a slave to protocol and rules and decides he needs to prove himself by operating on a VIP, whom he later realises only has 5% chance of survival. The patient dies in his hands and he ends up being sent to Doldam hospital. He almost decides to resign, but is brought back after an incident with Master Kim at the casino. Once he decides to stay on, he realises Seo-jung has been there for five years. Seeing Dong-joo brings back traumatic memories for Seo-jung and her PTSD is triggered, causing her to slit herself.

In this episode, we begin with an intense surgery between Dong-joo and Master Kim, which is followed by a showdown between the two of them. While Master Kim disappears for most of the episode, our two protagonists are again flooded with a barrage of intense incidents.

Dong-joo is swamped by a multitude of medical emergencies, including a huge family that has been hit by food poisoning, two accident victims who keep fighting each other, a man who drinks pesticide and is brought in by his parents who are hard of hearing.  In the meantime, he’s also faced a huge dilemma as Dr. Song, the chief surgeon at his previous hospital, has asked him to join in a specially arranged dinner with Dr. Do so that he can return to his previous hospital.  He misses his dinner in an attempt to save the man who drinks pesticide, but ultimately he can’t save him and ends up having to shout the news to his parents. He eventually breaks down and cries to his mum. When it finally seems like we can get some breathing space, a set of burn victims get sent in and he needs to treat them, without having had any prior experience treating burns.

Seo-jung is similarly hit by a wave of big incidents. She is first sacked by Master Kim because a doctor who harms herself is unable to treat other patients, which is in itself already a huge blow. When she finally decides to beg for her position back, she enters the hospital and sees a mentally unsound woman walk up to a patient and strangle him. She manages to pull the woman off, and just when she thinks she can get some rest, the burn victims are sent in and she jumps into action to help Dong-joo.

When watching this show, it feels as if someone is constantly stepping on the plot-accelerator, and there’s no opportunity for the characters or for the viewers to process anything that’s happening before we move on to the next big event. All the events happening above are huge and we should be feeling more for our protagonists, but we can’t because we’re just barraged by the incidents one after the other. I, for one, would have liked to get more insight into what happened to both Dong-joo and Seo-jung in the five years that we missed out on. Towards the end of the episode, Dong-joo tells Seo-jung that he has always been a straightforward guy, playing by the rules but we know that isn’t true based on the premiere. So what happened?  The rapid piling on of tragic incidents on our protagonists reflects a certain anxiety by the writer to quickly ensure viewers empathise or sympathise with them, which works only to a certain extent.

Also, there seems to be a deliberate “de-skilling” of Dong-joo in this episode in order to make him more tragic. In episode 1, Dong-joo exercised such precision with Seo-jung, providing her with the instruments she needed even without her asking for it. How is it that he was able to do that as an intern, yet after 5 years of experience, he seems even less competent? While it’s acceptable that he lost his values and moral compass along the way, how can it be that he also lost his skills? There seems to be a deliberate attempt in this episode to play up his failures, because we do eventually hear Nurse Oh attribute the success of the night to Dong-joo. However, we do not get to see any of it, because that would not contribute to the “downfall of Dong-joo” storyline.

All this plot acceleration would be more acceptable if we knew where exactly we are heading to, but it’s still rather hazy at this point what the writer wants to do. I’m guessing it has to do with Master Kim and how he eventually saves the two of them from all their tragic circumstances. Unlike Dong-joo and Seo-jung, the show is really taking its time to build up Master Kim’s story, which is unfortunate because I really wanted to know more about his backstory. It seems like we get more of it in episode 4, so I’m looking forward to that.

To close on a more positive note, I am really appreciating the cinematography of the show, especially the opening sequence with Seo-jung’s wrist surgery. While there has been no shortage of bloody, gory scenes in medical shows, I’ve rarely seen such a precise and visceral surgery scene, where we see each stitch being sewn and appreciate the deft, skilful hands of the surgeon. There’s such an artfulness to it that portrays surgery with a beauty that I haven’t seen before. I also love how the show continually plays with light, especially with natural light that almost floods all the day-time conversations between our protagonists.

On a final note, it’s unfortunate that all the medical terminology that’s being explained throughout the series is not subtitled, because I would be very keen to see what’s being said. There was even an explanatory note for “traffic accident”, which was surprising because I would never have seen it as a medical term. I also find the structuring of the show as chapters very intriguing, because it almost makes the show seem like a medical textbook or encyclopedia – or could it also be a biography? Amidst the very intense and tragic drama, there’s a playfulness in the way the series is structured, which makes you also wonder who this “book” is for. The chapter names are also rather fascinating, with this chapter named “Friday of Thirteen People”.

Three episodes in and the show still feels like it’s finding its ground. Let’s hope it finds it soon, because somewhere deep inside, it seems like there’s a good story to be discovered.

My Wife’s Having an Affair This Week: Episode 6

It seems like my wish expressed in the previous episode for both Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon’s relationship isn’t going to come true as the episode ends with Soo Yeon deciding to divorce Hyun Woo.

How can we blame her though?

We see much more of Soo Yeon’s side of the story in this episode and it’s clear that the show wants us to move from empathising with her to sympathising with her. The episode portrays both the struggles she faces as a working mum and as a woman who has cheated on her husband.

At work, her boss is harsh with her and speaks to her in a condescending tone. Her deadlines are tight and unforgiving. While struggling with work deadlines, she also has to manage the barrage of messages that come in from the group of stay-at-home mums in school, whom she’s also subservient to because they help her to secure what’s best for Joo Soon and help him make friends. She gives them expensive treats, buys macarons for them and swallows her pride to ask Hyun Woo for a professional video producer for them. She’s stretched so thin on all fronts, and we learn from Hyun Woo’s mum that this has been going on for a long time, as she recollects how Soo Yeon’s ran all the way, sweating even in the winter, when Joo Soon was sick as an infant. She’s been physically and emotionally stretched for so long and her fatigue and exhaustion is just written on her demeanour this entire episode.

You just want to appear as super mom, successful at work too. You think you’re better than stay at home moms. – Hyun Woo to Soo Yeon

Hyun Woo’s question to her about what she has really done for their son and all his brutal accusations of her really revealed his lack of understanding of her predicament. Having struggled with the burden of societal expectations, the last straw for her really is to have a husband that completely puts down all her efforts and cast them in negative light. It is his response to her contributions, and not his response to her adultery, that pushes her to decide to divorce him.

Regarding her cheating, she’s certainly gets no slack on too. Hyun Woo is stubborn in seeing things from his perspective, still adamantly pushing all blame on her. He indulges in self-pity, and all his postings on the forum cast him as the victim, starting with “My wife wants to separate with me.” or the closing line, “My wife is divorcing me this week.” While I felt it was difficult to judge him last week, I really disapproved of his actions and his words to her this week, going all out to make her suffer by refusing to pick up their son, telling her she should have anticipated this. He keeps cutting her off in conversations, refusing to even hear her side of the story while continually imposing his own feelings and experiences on her. Sun-woo’s wife is certainly vicious with her, completely tearing her apart, demanding from her to be specific about what she’s apologetic for. She’s completely different with Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon, but in both instances she wants to present to them that her marriage with Sun-woo is strong and will weather through this. She hits at Soo Yeon’s weakness – the struggle of balancing both work and children – and asks Soo Yeon if she was hoping to be saved by her husband. It’s really painful to watch, because Soo Yeon is silent through it all, looking down all the time. She’s constantly looking down in this episode when speaking to people, afraid to lift her head up after all that she’s done.

There’s no way we can watch this episode without sympathising with Soo Yeon. I personally understand the plight of a working mum, having witnessed how my wife had to struggle as well with balancing the needs of our kids with her work. The emotional pressure is so immense and she already had a very supportive work environment. It was heartening though to see Hyun Woo’s mum affirm Soo Yeon for her efforts and to even tell her that her mum would have been proud to see that. She also commiserates with Soo Yeon, telling her that she hated her marriage too and she would have ended it if not for her children.

I was sick of marriage too. It stunk. – Hyun Woo’s mum

As Soo Yeon tells Hyun Woo’s mum, both of them haven’t really spoken about their marriage and what happened. While the episode has built a lot of the context of Soo Yeon’s life and the consequences of her cheating, we still haven’t heard from Soo Yeon about what led her the affair. Her side of the story still remains untold and while divorce is already on the cards, I really hope we get some serious, heartfelt conversations between Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon about how their marriage was like.

Rather than getting up the courage to break up with him, I want to gather the courage to understand and forgive him. – Sun Woo’s wife

As the episode progresses, we see Hyun Woo’s heart softening, especially when he sees Soo Yeon trying to piggyback Joo Soon and clearly struggling as she bends down to pick up his shoes. After talking to Bo-Young, he puts on his wedding band and decides to have a conversation with her, to find out why she did that. It’s a sign of growth for him, of finally being deciding to hear out his wife and I sincerely hope we get some of that in the next episode.

On the note of cheating though, the show is aware of the double standard applied to women who cheat, which is voiced by Bo Young in this episode and mentioned several times previously. I am concerned though that the show seems to be perpetuating this double standard through its juxtaposition of Soo Yeon’s cheating with Joon Ki’s cheating, which continues to grate on me. I had earlier seen Joon Ki as being used brilliantly by the show to say all the politically incorrect things without being offensive. However, in recent episodes, his philandering sequences continue to be playfully presented and milked for humour without any sense of comeuppance or condemnation. While it was alright for one or two episodes, it’s getting boring and offensive. Yes, Ara finally discovers that he’s lied to her in this episode, but it wasn’t as if she didn’t already suspect this previously. In trying to give the writers some credit, I wondered if Joon Ki is being presented almost as a sex addict. It seems as if he completely has no control over his impulses and actions, as suggested in the previous episode by the ghost nightmare. He clearly has no interest in ending his marriage; all these merely serve as playful encounters for him. I really hope the writer is going somewhere meaningful with this and not merely using this for humour.

While Joon-ki’s story seems to be heading nowhere, Joon-Young story is relatively well-handled and we finally see the truth behind his marriage and the sham that he has had to keep up for over three years. It’s been a terrible experience for him, which is related to us with a good balance of humour and pain, ending in both men hugging each other in tears.

As a piece of storytelling, this episode was impressive as it managed to move all the relationships ahead as well as the plot involving Hyun Woo’s TV show, while also providing contexts to all the different remarks that appear on the internet forum. I continue to be entertained by the show’s use of social media to convey layers of conversations within the same time frame (which is extremely realistic) and also as a way to convey a person’s identity. I can confidently say that this is certainly one of the most culturally relevant series of 2016.

My Wife’s Having an Affair This Week: Episode 5

“Thinking about it, there seems to be no definite perpetrator or victim. You know, there’s a thing called willful negligence. Even knowing that their marriage will be in danger going on like this, there are many couples that don’t put in effort.” – Bo Young

Wow, this show really means business.

It takes a serious topic and is unafraid to delve into the darkest, most provocative corners of it, evoking such deeply personal responses and reflections. When the episode ended, I just paused and contemplated over what I had observed. I even had a conversation with my wife about how we would handle it if either one of us had an affair. Many K-dramas have elicited emotional reactions from me, but none have hit so close to heart as this one.

In this episode, Hyun Woo further descends into anger, despair, loss and pain. He confronts Sun-woo three times, but it’s only in the third that he  musters up the courage to punch him and take revenge by calling Sun-woo’s wife and breaking the news of his adultery to her. This is triggered by Sun-woo’s acceptance of Hyun Woo’s friend request on Facebook, allowing Hyun Woo to see the admiration he receives on Facebook for his beautiful family life. It’s not pretty at all and there’s no attempt to glorify his actions. He does this not because of any noble reason to ensure the wife is not kept in the dark. It is because he hates it that he’s the only one affected by what has happened. It’s unfair that Hyun Woo can retain his happy family whereas his is destroyed. His rage has blinded him to any form of reason; but really, what would a reasoned reaction to being cheated look like? Would a rational reaction be the right kind of reaction?

With Soo Yeon, Hyun Woo is dismissive, curt and explosive. Divorce keeps getting mentioned. He cuts her off when she tries to explain herself. He refuses to accept any of her explanations. He accuses her, calling her the aggressor and him the victim. He blasts her for destroying what they had together.

It’s not possible to say that Hyun Woo’s reactions were wrong; all that I can say is that I would not have reacted the same way as him, because of our different personalities. But I found it difficult to judge him and wonder if I might have reacted in the same way if the same thing happened to me. Having gone through marriage preparation courses and also spoken to friends who are marital counsellors, I know in my mind that divorce shouldn’t be the first option and that the couple should sit down and work things out. The right thing to do would be to exercise mercy and forgiveness, re-examine the marriage, rebuild the trust and move towards reconciliation. But in a way, Hyun Woo’s reactions aren’t wrong either. He’s angry – his wife has betrayed him after 15 years of marriage, and in doing so, also affected their child. Regardless of Soo Yeon’s reasons, her actions have been detrimental to their marriage in a major way. Whether it ultimately does destroy their marriage is a decision both of them have to make and it will be a heartbreaking, difficult journey.

We finally get a more insightful glimpse into Soo Yeon’s perspective in this episode and the most evident point is how isolated and lonely she is. Unlike Hyun Woo who has a band of brothers and a relatively close group of colleagues at work, Soo Yeon’s work environment is cold and distant. She struggles as a working mum, with pressures from both her boss and subordinates. On the home front, she’s working hard too to ensure the best for her son and has to network to negotiate a place for her son in an art class, following which she’s swamped by messages from fellow mums. While we see her perspective, the show ensures that we empathise with her, without necessarily sympathising with her. It’s clear she has done wrong, regardless of her circumstances and how she feels. Throughout the episode, she keeps insisting that this affair is something just between the two of them, but it really isn’t. She’s clearly repentant and wants to make the marriage work, but there’s no way to talk about doing so now, when Hyun Woo is so enraged. The next episode will explore the fall-out further and the show clearly isn’t allowing her to get off scot-free, making her confess the truth to Hyun Woo’s mum – something that Hyun Woo himself has not contemplated.

The show manages to balance the intensity of Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon’s storyline with the antics of Hyun Woo’s production team as well as scenes of Joon Ki’s philandering ways. I do hope the show is going somewhere with Joon Ki’s storyline as it’s getting increasingly ridiculous and no longer funny to see Ara being played around with in such a brutal, callous manner. I did not find any of the Joon Ki sequences funny at all in this episode. However, the Bo Young and Joon-Young storyline fares much better and we finally see the truth behind Joon-Young’s marriage, that his wife left him three days after they got married, which also opens a new angle on this show’s already very competent exploration of difficult issues in marriage.

It’s refreshing to see a drama take such a hard look at a difficult yet real topic in our society today, which seems to be worsening. Dramas like these are much needed and can be potentially powerful to help married couples talk through difficult issues. At this point, my personal wish is for the show to take a more hopeful, redemptive route and show us how Hyun Woo and Soo Yeon eventually work things out and redeem their marriage.